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

The Passion

1524-25
Oil on limewood, 136 x 31 cm (outer panels), 149,5 x 31 cm (inner panels)
Kunstmuseum, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

Religious paintings form a significant part of the work Holbein produced in Basel. From modest, private commissions in the period 1519-20 (for example, the Man of Sorrows), through the Dead Christ of 1521, his interpretation grew increasingly painterly, culminating in the broad sweep of emotion and design seen in the Passion. The coherence of the work is underlined by the decorative framework and is the result of Holbein's continued study of Italian masters. Holbein's maturity is evident in the way such derivations - the lighting from Raphael's Vatican frescoes, the armour from Mantegna-esque sources - are combined with a natural, native power of religious expression, dramatic and full of particularized incident, which produces a result quite different from the lofty idealism of the Italian Renaissance. This change can be charted by comparing the Entombment here with Raphael's 1507 version. The use of limewood panels, the tendency to depict contemporary dress (as worn by some of the mercenaries haranguing Christ) and the supernaturalistic nocturnal lighting, show the northern tendency predominant.

The eight scenes depicting the Passion are spread over four tall, slender panels, each of which is divided in half horizontally. In the top row (left to right) are Christ on the Mount of Olives, the Arrest in the Garden, Christ before Caiaphas, and the Scourging. The bottom row (left to right) shows the Crown of Thorns, the Via Crucis, the Crucifixion, and the Entombment.