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

Lady Elyot

Chalk, pen and brush on paper, 280 x 209 mm
Royal Collection, Windsor

Although contemporaneous with such portraits as that of Gisze, this pair of portrait drawings (with Sir Thomas Elyot) nevertheless had a different goal. The examination of intellectual or ideological stance or status was not much sought after by the subjects of most of the English court and society portrayals Holbein undertook. That was more the domain of his German merchants and scientists. The pragmatic accuracy of `warts and all' delineation was what fascinated the English clients most, and such interest in detail can be traced back to the national traits in medieval manuscript illumination, where natural forms rather than abstract or geometrical patterns abound. Sometimes, the sitters were happy enough with Holbein's preparatory chalk drawing, and finished paintings did not ensue. There are no known paintings connected with either this drawing or that of Sir Thomas Elyot. The native perplexity over perspective and foreshortening, which partly explains why the miniature became so favoured in later Tudor times (since it precludes much of either), must have made Holbein's mastery of both appear astounding.

The starchy headdress Lady Eliot wears seems to have been of a design baffling even to Holbein (he had had trouble depicting Lady Guildford's in 1527), probably because of the way in which it prevents that definition of the back of the head which allows the face to jut into the picture space convincingly.

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