Drawings and woodcuts
by Hans HOLBEIN the Younger

Stylistically, Holbein's drawings follow much the same development as the paintings. Those of the first English period are the most broadly conceived and boldly handled. Sketched on white paper in black and coloured chalks, they have a grandeur and nobility that is lacking from the later drawings. From the 1530s Holbein used paper primed with carnation, modelling the features in black chalk and adding details of the hair and ornaments in Indian ink with either the brush or pen. The beginning of this more refined technique is apparent in the drawings of the early 1530s, as in those of Sir Thomas Elyot and Lady Elyot, where the penwork has a new subtlety and delicacy. Occasionally in the later 1530s Holbein made very elaborate drawings with minutely precise detail; more commonly, particularly in drawings associated with royalty where presumably the sittings were brief, the tendency is to eliminate all detail and to concentrate solely on a schematic outline. For some of his later portraits Holbein seems to have used a mechanical tracing device.

There survives the famous volume of drawings now preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, which almost certainly remained in Holbein's studio until his death. This contains eighty-five portrait drawings of men who played a leading part in the making of Tudor history; only a few of the drawings may be connected with surviving paintings. Where the paintings are known, however, they frequently follow the drawings very closely indeed; for example, the painting of Sir Richard Southwell follows the drawing, even down to such details as the rather casual arrangement of the buttons in the collar. Drawing had always been the basis of Holbein's style and these portrait drawings are not quick sketches or impressions, but carefully worked-out statements about the sitter's personality.

Summary of paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger
1515-19 | 1519-25 | altarpieces | 1526-28 | 1529-31
1532-35 | Ambassadors | Henry VIII and his family | 1536-43
drawings and woodcuts | miniatures | Miscellaneous works