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

De Vos van Steenwijk

Oil on wood, 48 x 37 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The sitter, a member of a Dutch family, has been identified through the coat of arms inscribed on his index-finger ring. The portrait shows a considerable tightening and simplifying of the composition that would pervade Holbein's oeuvre in the last few years of his life. Rich, shiny blacks come into favour, handsomely set against the passive blue background with its gilt inscription. The articulation of light against dark grows bolder too; the faces and hands gain in emphasis and a monumental linearity emerges in the treatment of the clothing against the background.

This stylistic development was perhaps a reaction against the small-scale filigree required for the portrait miniatures which were being produced in increasing numbers during this period, although both formats share the use of flat blue backgrounds.