cover image Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man

Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man

Derek Wilson, Author Phoenix Illustrated $24.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-85799-880-1

As the subtitle of this intriguing speculative biography suggests, very little is known about Hans Holbein. Born in Augsburg in 1497, he encountered a Europe on the verge of great change. Perhaps he would have been less aware of this change had his father, a respected painter in his own right, not decided to send his sons away from Augsburg to study in the printing center of Basel, the Reformation's ground zero and, in Wilson's account, the formative influence on the 18-year-old newcomer's life. Wilson (A Tudor Tapestry) portrays such eminent figures as Erasmus, Zwingli and Luther, whose ideas were shaking Europe, and highlights their background in political and economic forces. The author's detective spirit is bent on restoring details effaced by time. Despite the paucity of documentation about his subject, Wilson offers an absorbing portrayal of Holbein's intellectual culture and forges convincing links to the many artworks that have been preserved. Holbein's last years at Henry VIII's Tudor court produced some of his finest works--The Ambassadors and his various wedding portraits, among others. Wilson tries a little too hard to convince readers that Holbein's early fervent spiritual commitment continued--though restrained--through his difficult later days with Henry VIII. But this is a slight wobble in an otherwise fine biography. (Nov.)