HOLBEIN, Hans the Younger
(b. 1497, Augsburg, d. 1543, London)

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam

1523
Wood, 76 x 51 cm
National Gallery, London

Of Holbein's portraits of Erasmus, this is the most ostentatious, and not just because it is much larger. The background of the interior is furnished with a splendidly decorated pilaster and a shelf with books and a glass carafe, all of which help to ennoble the sitter. On the edge of the book reclining on the shelf is a Latin couplet composed by Erasmus, which asserts that Holbein would sooner have a slanderer than an imitator. That seems to mean that his outstanding art could scarcely be imitated and therefore criticism from the envious is more likely than imitation.

In the Web Gallery of Art you can view several portraits of Erasmus by Renaissance painters, such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Dürer and Quentin Massys.