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

Portrait of Derich Born

Oil on oak, 60 x 45 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

Fictive inscription on the stone parapet below the ledge: DERICHVS SI VOCEM ADDAS IPSISSIMVS HIC SIT/HVNC DVBITES PICTOR FECERIT AN GENITOR/DER BORN ETATIS SVAE 23. ANNO 1533 [Here is Derich himself: Add voice and you might doubt if the painter or his father created him. Der Born aged 23, the year 1533]

Hans Holbein the Younger returned to England in 1532 for a second and longer visit, marked by a series of portraits of German merchants in London's Steelyard community. The group formed part of the powerful Hanseatic League and its members were for the most part only based in London for a few years. Holbein painted the portraits of several merchants, not, as might well be assumed, for the decoration of the Steelyard Merchants' Hall, but most probably for their families left behind in Germany. (The success of these portraits, however, led the Steelyard Merchants to commission the allegorical paintings The Triumph of Riches and The Triumph of Poverty for their Hall.) The portraits are restricted to half-length compositions and the sitters are normally posed in relation to a parapet or a table, looking directly out at the viewer and often identified by an inscription or some other internal clue. In this context the present inscription is of a type often found on portraits during the Renaissance. The wording might indicate an informal purpose for the painting. Although the exact number of the Steelyard portraits is not known, seven of the sitters can be firmly identified.

When seen in sequence the paintings reveal the development of Holbein's portraiture during the early 1530s, from the meticulous treatment of the still-life objects in Portrait of George Gisze (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) to the more restrained composition of the present portrait. Here the barrier formed by the parapet is negated by the placing of the head in relation to the angle of the shoulders and by the sitter's jutting elbow. These devices help to define the position of the figure both within the picture space and with regard to the viewer. They can also be found in early portraits by Titian such as the Portrait of a Man (also in the Royal Collection) and in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael (Paris, Louvre). The precision of Holbein's brushwork incorporating the smooth modulation of the flesh tones, enhanced by the sharp light, the embroidery on the collar, and the foliage behind is remarkable. It has been suggested that the fig leaves behind the sitter in the present portrait are included for prophylactic reasons as opposed to being a personal symbol.

Derich Born was from Cologne and his mercantile activities are recorded between 1533, when he may already have been in England, and 1549. In 1536 he is documented as a supplier of harnesses at the time of the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Together with his brother, Johannes, Born was expelled from the London Steelyard in 1541 and he seems frequently to have been in financial difficulties even though he continued trading.

The portrait has the brand of Charles I on the back, but it seems not to have been recorded in any of the inventories of the Royal Collection until the reign of Charles II. It may, however, be identifiable with a portrait of Derich Born recorded in 1655 as being in the collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, a great admirer of Northern European painting. Charles I often gave paintings to Howard or exchanged pictures with him. This seems, therefore, to be a case of a picture having left the Royal Collection only to return later.

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