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

Darmstadt Madonna (detail)

1526 and after 1528
Oil on limewood
Schlossmuseum, Darmstadt

Jakob Meyer's unusual stipulation that the artist include his deceased first wife Magdalene in the painting was the result of the death of Meyer's two sons during Holbein's first English absence: he decided to include all members of his family, living and dead, rather than omit any individual. Holbein brilliantly resolved the problem of tactfully integrating Magdalena's portrait into the group. The use of the profile and her retiring position at the back avoid direct eye contact, and the swathing of her face in cloth ensures that her features - which Holbein had never seen - do not seem vapid in comparison to the forceful portrayals of the rest of the family.

The great skill and delicacy of the detailing of Anna's hair-band, catching the translucent light over the pearls, recalls the attention to detail of the old Flemish masters and their early explorations of the powers of oil paint. In this private work for the Meyer chapel at Gross Gundeldingen Holbein achieved a combination of piety and grandeur, and interaction between the human and divine, to rival that of Van Eyck himself.

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