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

Portrait of Dorothea Meyer, née Kannengiesser

1516
Limewood, 38,5 x 30,8 cm
Kunstmuseum, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

There is a companion-piece of this painting, the portrait of the sitter's husband, Jakob Meyer zum Hasen. The architecture provides a link between the two portraits and creates a shared space for the figures; prior to Holbein, such a pictorial concept was unknown in Basel panel painting. The same applies to the decorative elements on the architecture, derived from the Italian Renaissance, such as the coffered vault and the acanthus leaf frieze, which incorporates two putti.

The gilded coffering and pillar enhance the appearance of sober opulence in this striking and forthright depiction of Dorothea Kannengiesser, the second wife of Jakob Meyer. Their double-portrait, signed and dated 1516, was probably commissioned to celebrate Meyer's election as burgomaster. This had crucial repercussions for Holbein's career; evidently pleased with such an impressive diptych from so young an artist, Meyer gained Holbein numerous commissions in the following few years. Meyer was a member of the increasingly important mercantile class in Basel and the first of its members to achieve significant administrative power. (The coin he holds signifies his money-dealing role and also perhaps Basel's new-found permission to mint coins.) His friends and colleagues were therefore in the financial position to aid Holbein through their patronage. Meyer's tenure was brief, however - in 1521 he was impeached for accepting a larger bribe than was permitted from the French, imprisoned when he protested at his treatment and barred from office thereafter. He remained a Catholic after the city's secession to the reformed religion and led the Catholic party in the city: Holbein would perceive such strength of character again, in the analogous determination of Sir Thomas More to remain true to his faith .