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

Unknown Gentleman with Music Books and Lute

c. 1534
Oil on wood, 44 x 44 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The painting's similarities with other works dating from the early 1530s have led to the supposition that the sitter was a leading musician at Henry VIII's court. The king was a keen musician and amateur composer and rewarded such figures well; to be afforded the distinction of a Holbein portrait could be seen as an official seal of approval. The sitter's employment demonstrates the range of clientele to whom Holbein now catered.

Time has not been kind to this work, however, much of whose detail has been destroyed by overzealous cleaning. The green background is that of the underpainting - hence its unusually harsh tone - and definition on the lute is vague. It is to be expected that writing was originally visible on the score, which may have given the identity of the sitter (once thought to be Jean de Dinteville).

The structure and pose show Holbein's knowledge of current Venetian compositional formations (as exemplified in the work of Titian and Lotto).




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