|Hans Holbein the Elder, Portrait of a Woman,|
c. 1508, silverpoint, brush, and black and
brown ink, and black chalk heightened
with white prepared paper, National Gallery
of Art, Washington, Woodner Collection.
The quantity of Holbein’s portrait drawings suggests that taking portraits of people he knew or met was a regular part of his artistic practice, if not a preoccupation. He drew portraits of some of the most wealthy and influential people of Augsburg, such as Jakob Fugger der Reiche (literally, “the Rich”). The affluent and powerful are subjects we would expect from an aspiring artist trying to make connections and advance his career. Not as predictable are Holbein’s portraits of less prominent people, including women and children. These subjects are underrepresented in Renaissance portraiture in general. Most of Holbein’s portraits are of men who are identified by name with inscriptions on the drawings or whose professions can be deduced from their clothing. Their roles in Augsburg society were varied and clear. Roles for women and children, however, were limited to the private, domestic sphere. Therefore, Holbein’s portraits are important resources for us to gain a broader understanding of southern German society.
|Hans Holbein the Elder, detail of a drawing|
showing a hair from the brush used to
apply the ground, Kunstmuseum Basel
Silverpoint and other metalpoints are unlike any other drawing medium. This unique method results in delicacy of handling and subtle styles of drawing. The delicacy of silverpoint also makes it useful for small scale drawings like Portrait of a Woman. This drawing is exemplary of Holbein’s refined technique. His meticulous use of the tool is evident in the fine, light lines and marks and faint, linear shading of the folds of her head cloth. Holbein later emphasized certain features by using a tiny brush and ink around the eyes and white highlighting on the nose and cheekbones.
|Hans Holbein the Elder, pages from his only still bound|
sketchbook, Kunstmuseum Basel
Drop by the Blanton before January 5, 2014 to view Portrait of a Woman and experience in person Holbein’s refined silverpoint technique, delve into the complex layers of his subject, and discover the Renaissance humanism portrayed in this unique work that continues to captivate us through the ages.