Book Review: “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle

C1629377When we think of famous artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, we focus on the great European masters. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer tend to come immediately to mind. However, one man from Augsburg, Germany, revolutionized how we viewed the Tudor dynasty through portraiture: Hans Holbein the Younger. Many are familiar with his famous works of art and how they influenced how the Tudors have been perceived for centuries, but the man behind the masterpieces has been overlooked. His story and how art was understood in the 16th century is told in Franny Moyle’s latest biography, “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein.”

Before I read this book, I did not know much about Hans Holbein, the man behind the art. I knew about his masterpieces like his portraits of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and The Ambassadors, which I love to marvel at, but the man himself was a complete mystery. When this book was announced, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about the master Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein the Younger was from a family of artists; his father was Hans Holbein the Elder, and his older brother Ambrosius were also artisans, but they never reached the level of prestige as the youngest member of the family. Holbein the Younger was willing to break the mold and create art his way. Before finishing his apprenticeship, he signed his artwork and ensured that he was not in debt like Holbein the Elder. Holbein the Younger decided to move to Basel, Switzerland, to make his name. Here, Holbein was introduced to men like Erasmus and the ideas of humanism and Protestantism. It was in Basel where Holbein married Elsbeth Schmidt and started his family.

Holbein did not stay in Basel as he was destined to travel to England to be the painter for King Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings for Henry VIII and his court are some of the most stunning images in 16th century England. The way Holbein was able to paint his subjects in such a life-like style is astonishing. However, when you pair it with Moyle’s information about Holbein’s circle of friends like More, Cromwell, Erasmus, and Cranmer, it adds depth to his work. The amount of allusions and symbolism in these works of art is astounding, and you can spend hours just analyzing one piece at a time.

It is a spectacular biography that any Tudor or art fan will adore. Franny Moyle has created a vivid image of Holbein’s world that could stand side by side with one of his masterpieces. I purposely took my time to read this book slowly to absorb every minuscule detail that Moyle included about Holbein and his world. I know it is a book that I will personally reread in the future. If you want a definitive and delightful biography about the man behind the canvas, I highly recommend “ The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle.

Book Review: “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke

57135832When we think of the legacy of King Henry VIII, a few descriptions come to mind—married six times, father of three children who would be the king and queens of England one day. We often see him as a man conflicted with religious changes and someone who could be tyrannical when dispatching his enemies and those closest to him. We don’t usually associate Henry VIII with a collector and patron of fine art, but his collection would help bring the Royal Collection to life. The artwork that Henry VIII commissioned and collected tells how he wanted to be viewed by the world. In “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship,” Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke peel back the layers of Tudor propaganda to show the truth about King Henry VIII and the artists who made his ideal image.

I first heard about this book from a social media post from Alison Weir, and the way she described it was so intriguing to me. I have not read many books about art history, which I do love, so I wanted to see if Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke could add any new information into the world of Tudor art.

Collins and Clarke take their readers on a journey through the life of the titular king, explaining crucial moments during his long reign and how he used different types of art to express his worldview. For even the most casual Tudor fan, one would think of the first name when Tudor art is Hans Holbein the Younger. However, there are so many other brilliant artists that Collins and Clarke highlight in this book. There were sculptors like Guido Mazzoni, who created the terracotta sculpture of a young boy who is believed to be Henry VIII as a boy, and Pietro Torrigiano, who made the tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor age saw the emergence of portraits, miniatures, and paintings as art, which is reflected in Henry VIII’s collection. Some artists are unknown and are still referred to as either the English or Flemish schools, but we know about miniaturists’ contributions like Lucas Horenbout and Holbein. I loved this book because Collins and Clarke took the time to explain how these pieces were created to give us a better appreciation for the crafts. From sculptures and paintings to tapestries, stained glass, and etchings, each piece of artwork highlighted in this book tells a unique tale of the Tudor king and how these pieces would become the Royal Collection that we know today.

If you are a lover of art and Tudor history, you will find “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke enthralling. This small book is exquisitely written, and it provides its audience with a plethora of fascinating art facts—a must-read for any Tudor history fan.