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Hans Holbein the Younger

The Years in Basel 1515–1532

HAUPTBAU / 31.03.–02.07.2006 / Commissaire : Christian Müller

Basel and London - Two Exhibitions
From April 1st to July 2nd, 2006, the Kunstmuseum Basel will host a large exhibition dedicated to Hans Holbein the Younger (born Augsburg, 1497/1498; died London, 1543). The show will focus on his works created in Basel from 1515 to 1532, the year of Holbeins journey to England, where he was eventually to be appointed court painter to King Henry VIII. Later in 2006, from September 28th to January 7th, 2007, Tate Britain in London will present a second exhibition of Holbeins works created in England. The two exhibitions will complement each other and will also take into account Holbeins first stay in England from 1526 to 1528. Visitors to the two exhibitions in 2006 will therefore be given the unique opportunity to appreciate the full range of Holbeins oeuvre. Basel and London largely owe their eminence as centres of Holbein research to their collections. Tate Britain and the Kunstmuseum Basel are aiming to cooperate, both in their research and in producing texts for the forthcoming bilingual German-English catalogue.

Hans Holbein the Younger at the Kunstmuseum Basel, 2006
For the first time in almost five decades this exhibition presents an important part of the extant works from Holbeins Basel years from 1515 to 1532. It is an extraordinary collection of some forty paintings, one hundred drawings and numerous prints. Among the significant loans we are proud to present the Darmstadt Madonna, the Solothurn Madonna and the Oberried Altar from the cathedral in Freiburg, Germany, as well as portraits from Holbeins first stay in England, for example those of Anne Lovell from London; Lady Mary Guildford from St. Louis, Missouri; and Thomas Godsalve with his son John from Dresden. The great number of drawings from our collection will be complemented by loans from Augsburg, Berlin, Braunschweig, Leipzig, Lille, London, Munich, Paris and Windsor Castle. In other words, we can present almost the totality of Holbeins drawings. This exhibition will provide the unique opportunity of seeing side by side works that are usually scattered all over Europe. Their immediate comparison will enable viewers to appreciate their special qualities and to compare and appraise them in a new light.

Biography: from Augsburg to Basel
Hans Holbein the Younger is among the most significant artists of the early 16th century, on a par with Albrecht Dürer as well as Hans Baldung Grien and Matthias Grünewald, who worked on the Upper Rhine, where the arts of painting, drawing and book printing flourished at the time. In 1515 Hans Holbein the Younger and his brother Ambrosius arrived in Basel from Augsburg, where they had received their first artistic training at the large painter's workshop of Hans Holbein the Elder, their father. In Basel Holbeins talent as a portraitist and as a painter of murals and wall paintings soon revealed itself and he obtained the Citys most significant commissions. He also created large-scale religious tableaux. Being in close contact with printers, he supplied sketches for book illustrations. He also met the Humanists teaching in Basel, the illustrious Erasmus of Rotterdam among them, whom he portrayed several times.

France and England
However, the adumbration of the Reformation in Basel and its negative impact on the production of art, as well as his own expectations of himself as an artist soon prompted him to seek other places of activity. In 1523/24 he left for France, whence he continued on to England in pursuit of an appointment as court painter. During his first sojourn in England from 1526 to 1528 he was given the first opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a painter of large-scale decorations for the festivities at the court of Henry VIII (1491-1547). He also obtained commissions for portraits from members of the English aristocracy close to Henry's court. Among the most significant artistic achievements of that period is the family portrait of Thomas More (1478-1535). The earliest group portrait north of the Alps shows Henry VIIIs Lord Chancellor seated among his large family. While the painting itself was destroyed in a fire in the 18th century, Holbeins sketch and several portrait studies have survived and form part of the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, England.

A brief return to Basel
In 1528 Holbein was back in Basel, where his family lived. In the next few years he painted the portrait of his wife with their two elder children, as well as the organ doors for Basel Cathedral and drawings of the Stations of the Cross. This was to be his last commission with a religious theme. Also in this period Holbein completed the murals of the Basel Council chambers. In 1532 Holbein returned to London where he frequented members of the outpost of the Hanseatic Leage at the Steelyard or Stalhof, producing their portraits and painting murals for their Guild Hall. In 1535 he was appointed court painter to King Henry VIII. In a self-portrait held at the Uffizi galleries in Florence and painted one year prior to his unexpected death in London in 1543, he terms himself a burgher of Basel: Holbein always remained close to this city.

The collection at the Kunstmuseum Basel
The Kunstmuseum Basel holds the worlds largest collection of paintings, drawings and authograph prints of Holbein the Younger, an artist who enjoyed a high esteem already in his lifetime. As early as 1661 the largest portion of the significant series of Holbein paintings in the so-called Amerbach Cabinet could be secured for the city of Basel. This Cabinet is a collection assembled in the second half of the 16th century by the Basel lawyer, Basilius Amerbach (1533-1591). It also contained a large library as well as works inherited from his father, Bonifacius Amerbach (1495-1562). The museum collection was significantly increased in 1823, when the holdings of the Museum Faesch among them the sketches and 1516 double portrait of Jakob Meyer and his wife, Dorothea Kannengiesser were transferred to the collection of the University.

Holbein always held in high esteem
Basel has long held Holbein and the extraordinary quality of his work in high esteem. Even in 1538 the City Council attempted to lure him back to Basel despite the fact that several of his paintings had been destroyed or damaged during the iconoclastic riots of 1529, while others still unfinished were taken across the border to Germany to save them from destruction. One such example is the Oberried Altar in Freiburg, Germany. In the 17th century, the heirs of Meyer von Hasen, who commissioned the celebrated Darmstadt Madonna, sold the work to a foreign buyer.