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

Portrait of Lady Mary Guildford

Oak, 87 x 71 cm
Art Museum, Saint Louis

The second wife of Sir Henry Guildford, Mary Wotton had herself painted with a book of hours and a rosary. These attributes are formal references to a wife's piety, while the man is endowed with the attributes of worldly power. Although the panels are slightly different in size, they were conceived as a matching pair, as is indicated by the curtain pole that runs through both pictures and their matching blue backgrounds, decorated with the branches of vines.

The preparatory drawing for this portrait is still held in Basel, which may indicate why the harsher lighting and greater linearity of the painting recalls Holbein's earlier European style. In comparison with the More family portraits, there is a stark flatness in the modelling of the plump sitter, whose figure is less comfortably integrated with the background. There is less interest in the texture of material (especially in the head dress), and awkward elements such as the grotesque head on the pillar seem to parody Lady Guildford herself. Holbein resorts to architectural as well as natural forms to rein in the composition, but despite the iron stanchion at the back and the receding perspectival column and pillars, ambiguities in space are unresolved at the far left and bottom right. Only the depiction of the sitter's arms and hands seems to have engaged the artist's full attention and powers.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.