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

Unknown Young Man at his Office Desk

1541
Oil on wood, 47 x 34,9 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The awkwardness of the sitter's pose may result from its being an amalgam of two portraits of other people from about a decade earlier. This may explain the harder, more emphatically linear treatment of clothing and facial modelling, reminiscent of Holbein's style of the early 1530s.

The portrait has the static poise and fixity of the miniatures but on a larger scale, which allows scope for the addition of accoutrements. As in the picture of Derich Born (Royal Collection, Windsor), whose frontal gaze is so similar, the questioning directness pierces the viewer's conviction that it is merely a painted image. Although Hilliard's art would have different technical procedures, he wrote in The Arte of Limning (c.1600) of the reputation Holbein gained for the veracity of his work: `(there) came the most excelent Painter and limner Master Haunce Holbean the greatest Master Truly in both thosse arts after the liffe that ever was, so Cunning in both together and the neatest; and therewithall a good inventor, soe compleat for all three, as I never heard of any better than hee. Yet had the King in wages for limning Divers others, but Holbean's maner of limning I have ever imitated and howld it for the best...'