Details in Holbein Paintings


Born in Augsburg?c. 1497, Hans Holbein the Younger learned to paint from his father, Hans Holbein the Elder.

Holbein traveled to England in 1526 in search of work, with a recommendation from Erasmus. He was welcomed into the humanist circle of Thomas More, where he quickly built a high reputation. After returning to Basel for four years, he resumed his career in England in 1532. This time he worked under the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he was King’s Painter to King Henry VIII. In this role, he produced not only portraits and festive decorations but designs for jewelry, plate and other precious objects. His portraits of the royal family and nobles are a record of the court in the years when Henry was asserting his supremacy over the English church.

There are a couple sketches believed to Anne Boleyn that are attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger. “One portrays a woman with rather plump features dressed in a plain nightgown and coif. Some have said that this shows the queen during pregnancy, sometime between 1533 and 1535, but recent research shows that the subject is most likely one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, possibly Lady Margaret Lee or her sister, Anne Wyatt. It seems more likely that the finished portrait Holbein painted of Anne Boleyn was destroyed after she was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on false charges of treason, adultery and incest.

Hans Holbein sketch thought to be Anne Boleyn

By Hans Holbein the Younger

Margaret Lee nee Wyatt

Holbein painted many of the most well-known figures of the Tudor court, including: Henry VIII, Thomas More, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Jane Seymour, Elizabeth Seymour (Jane’s sister), Thomas Cromwell, Anne of Cleves and many more. Today, we will look at those portraits and zoom in on some of the amazing artistry that Holbein had. I hope you enjoy looking as closely at it as I have.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The detail in Holbein’s painting of Thomas Howard is magnificent. Look at the details in his face and his clothing. When I look at this portrait I feel like I’m looking at the real man. Look at the details in his chain – marvelous details.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, 1539; Royal Collection, Windsor Castle

King Henry VIII

Holbein was known for his details in portraits. We see in Henry’s right hand him clenching his gloves tightly, while his left rests very near his dagger as if he is always ready for an unknown attack.


Sir Thomas More

This portrait of Thomas More is absolutely magnificent. The detail is amazing. The close up on his chin (I wish was closer) shows his individual facial hairs! Also look at his clothing. By looking at it I feel like I could reach out and touch the velvet and fur with my own hand.


Notice the detail of the Tudor rose on the Collar of Esses Livery chain.tudor_rose_from_holbeins_portrait_of_more

Jane Seymour

Holbein’s talent truly rested in his attention to detail. His portrait of Queen Jane Seymour again shows the clear design of the fabric of her dress. Just look at the tiny details!


Elizabeth Seymour (married to Gregory Cromwell and sister to Jane Seymour)

In my opinion, my favorite part of this portrait is her face and hands. Holbein truly had a way to make his subject come to life. When I look at her face I feel like I’m staring at the perfect image of this amazing woman and sister to a queen. The color of her skin is amazing as well – so life like!


Thomas Cromwell

Compared to Holbein’s other portraits of Tudor politicians, Cromwell seems reduced; he is placed low in the frame, deep in the pictorial space, placing a distance and diminishing him from the viewer. The table reaches into the immediate foreground as if reaching into the viewer’s personal space.?Holbein presents Cromwell as somewhat sour, cold and grim, yet the portrait has been described as “a softened version of the subject”.?

The inscription on the border reads “To our trusty and right well, beloved Councillor, Thomas Cromwell, Master of our Jewel House”. Cromwell sits on a bench before a table holding a legal document. His left hand has a patterned gold ring with a large green gemstone. He is dressed in sober colours,?comprising a black fur lined overcoat, a black hat and a “severe expression”.?The table is covered with a green cloth. Some of his effects are placed on it, including a quill, a devotional book, scissors and a leather bag. (Wikipedia about the portrait)


Anne of Cleves

In the summer of 1539 Hans Holbein was sent by King Henry VIII to D?ren to paint the portrait of Anne of Cleves whom the king was considering as his fourth Queen. He wanted to know what she looked like. The portrait, now in the Louvre, is unusually painted on parchment suggesting that Holbein did indeed paint the portrait while in D?ren, not later in London from a sketch. As first and foremost an artist true to his calling (and not the king’s), how did Holbein portray the Queen as an aspect of his own mind without upsetting the bloodthirsty and dangerous tyrant?

Anne’s hands are clasped at her waist but, if you turn your head, you will see what few but artists are ever likely to have seen before: a face formed from her joined hands looking up towards her head. (Every Painter Paints Himself)


The following are more of his amazing portraits for your viewing pleasure…

Lady with Squirrel

Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, probably Anne Lovell. oil and tempera on oak, National Gallery, London
Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, probably Anne Lovell. oil and tempera on oak, National Gallery, London



Portrait of a Woman in a White Coif


The Ambassadors

This painting has some of the most hidden messages/symbols of any of Holbein’s paintings. To learn more please watch the video below and prepare to be amazed!


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Never Before Seen Portrait: Thomas Seymour

While perusing the Tudor-net I came across a link to Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The link brings you to a mostly white page with red accents and… oh yeah, a sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger that might also be Thomas Seymour.

Copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2017. All Rights Reserved

This portrait is of a man who is bare-headed, has a fairly neat beard and is wearing a fur collar. The museum states the sketch was made from 1535-1540. In my opinion we can narrow that down even further. When Thomas’ sister Jane married the King of England his status changed immediately, and because of that I can confidently say that the earliest date for this sketch would be 1536. In 1536, Seymour would have been roughly 30 years old. To me, the sitter of the sketch looks like he could be around that age.

We know Thomas Seymour had a beard and mustache, so that matches…but in all his other known portraits he is wearing a hat — appears to be the same hat in each portrait. The pin on his hat is for his ‘membership’ in the Order of the Garter.  Could this be Thomas?

If the oldest date that this could have been sketched was 1540, that would mean that King Henry VIII was still alive, and with that, Seymour had not yet been made a baron or Lord High Admiral.

In 1547 Thomas Seymour was made Knight of the Garter. Is this how a knight, and brother-in-law to the King would dress? In my opinion, most definitely. All of the current portraits we know of Thomas Seymour all having him wearing black, and the same black plumed hat with the Garter pin.



Holbein Sketch: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2017. All Rights Reserved

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Hans Holbein the Younger Sketches


The following are portrait sketches believed to be by Hans Holbein the Younger that are in the Royal Collection. Holbein is one of the most well known artist of his time, especially in Tudor England. His portraits are some of the best of the best. The details are amazing and truly admirable.

Self-Portrait of Holbein

Holbein was born in Augsburg in southern Germany in the winter of 1497-8. He was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder. He became a member of the Basel artists’ guild in 1519. He travelled a great deal, and is recorded in Lucerne, northern Italy and France. In these years he produced woodcuts and fresco designs as well as panel paintings. With the spread of the Reformation in Northern Europe the demand for religious images declined and artists sought alternative work. Holbein first travelled to England in 1526 with a recommendation to Thomas More from the scholar Erasmus. In 1532 he settled in England, dying of the plague in London in 1543.

Holbein was a highly versatile and technically accomplished artist who worked in different media. He also designed jewellery and metalwork. – The National Gallery

Simon George of Cornwall

The English nobleman Simon George used this painting (on right) to ask the hand of a young lady befitting his social status in marriage: the red carnation was the traditional symbol of such a request.

The drawing is related to a circular painting by Holbein in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt. c. 1535

William Reskimer

Reskemeer a Cornish Gentleman - William Reskimer (d.1552), who came from Cornwall, as the later inscription on the drawing records, held a number of minor positions at Henry VIII’s court, among them Page of the Chamber. In 1543 he was granted keepership of the ports of the Duchy of Cornwall and in 1546 was appointed Gentleman Usher.

The drawing is a study for a painted portrait by Holbein, also in the Royal Collection. c
The drawing is a study for a painted portrait by Holbein, also in the Royal Collection. c. 1532-1535

Elizabeth Grey, Lady Audley

A portrait drawing of Elizabeth, Lady Audley (d.1564), second wife of Thomas, Lord Audley of Walden, and daughter of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquis of Dorset.

Elizabeth married Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Walden sometime between 1538 and 1540 – she was his second wife. About 1540 Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a daughter, Margaret Audley.

The drawing relates to a circular miniature by Holbein, also in the Royal Collection. c 1538
The drawing relates to a circular miniature by Holbein, also in the Royal Collection. c 1538

Sir Thomas & Margaret Elyot

A portrait drawing of Margaret, Lady Elyot (c.1500-1560), daughter of Sir Maurice à Barrow, and wife of Sir Thomas Elyot. The portrait shows her head and shoulders facing three-quarters to the right. She wears a yellow gable headdress and pendant.

A portrait drawing of Sir Thomas Elyot (c.1490-1546). A bust length portrait facing three-quarters to the left. He wears a hat and fur collar. Sir Thomas Elyot (c.1490-1546) was a writer and diplomat, and was well respected by his contemporaries in both fields. His most famous publication was The Boke named the Governour, a book of political instruction inspired by classical literature, which was first issued in 1531 and was reprinted a number of times. He also published a comprehensive Latin-English dictionary, and a popular guide to medicine. His work as ambassador to Charles V took him to the continent, where he visited the city of Nuremberg four years after Dürer’s death. Holbein’s portrait was probably made after Elyot returned from this embassy, on which he had been replaced as ambassador by Thomas Cranmer. Holbein has shown Elyot dressed in a cap and gown with a fur collar, over which he wears a cross on a long chain.

Both drawings in the Royal Collection. c. 1532-1534
Both drawings in the Royal Collection. c. 1532-1534

Sir Phillip & Elizabeth Hoby

A portrait drawing of Elizabeth, Lady Hoby (c.1500-1560), wife of Sir Philip Hoby, and daughter of Sir Walter Stonor; she was a member of Queen Katherine Parr’s circle.

A portrait drawing of Sir Philip Hoby (1504/5-1558).

Both drawings in the Royal Collection. c. 1532-1543
Both drawings in the Royal Collection. c. 1532-1543

James Butler, Earl of Ormand & Nicholas Bourban, Poet

A portrait drawing of James Bulter (c.1496-1546), who became the 9th Earl of Ormond and the 2nd Earl of Ossory after this drawing was made. This drawing was previously identified as Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, the father of Anne Boleyn.

A portrait drawing of Nicholas Bourbon (c.1503-1549/50), a French poet at the court of Henry VIII. Bourbon came to England in 1535 and became part of a circle of foreigners at Henry VIII’s court which included Holbein and the astronomer Nicholas Kratzer. Bourbon praised Holbein’s work as exceeding that of Apelles, the legendary Greek painter.

James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond and 2nd Earl of Ossory. c. 1537
James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond; c. 1537                       Nicholas Bourbon, Poet; c. 1535

Margaret, Lady Butts

A portrait drawing of Margaret, Lady Butts (c.1485-1545), wife of Sir William Butts, and daughter of John Bacon. She served as a lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary and belonged to the circle of Queen Katherine Parr.

Margaret Butts, c.?1541 – c.?1543

Sir Gavin & Sir George Carew

A portrait drawing of Sir Gavin Carew, brother of Sir George Carew.

A portrait drawing of Sir George Carew (c.1504-1545), commander of the Mary Rose.

Gavin Carew c.?1532 – c.?1543 and his nephew, George Carew c.?1532 – c.?1543

Edward Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln & Lady Lister

A portrait drawing of Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Lord Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln (1512-1585).

A portrait drawing of Lady Lister, her precise identity is unknown.  The precise identity of the sitter is unknown. One suggestion is Lady Jane Lister, the wife of Sir Richard Lyster, Lord Chief Justice.

c. 1532- c. 1543; Female sitter believed to be Lady Jane Lister.

Sir Henry Guildford

A portrait drawing of Sir Henry Guildford (1489-1532). Sir Henry Guildford (1489-1532) was one of Henry VIII’s closest friends. On the King’s accession in 1509 he was appointed Esquire of the Body – a personal attendant on the King – and Master of Revels, responsible for organising the lavish entertainments at court. His parties included morris dancers, moving stages and a series of elaborate costumes for the young King. Guildford’s influence at court was cut short in the 1519 purge of the so-called ‘minions’, an attempt by older statesmen to limit the influence of hot-headed young men on the 28-year-old monarch. Guildford soon returned to court, however, and developed a distinguished career as Comptroller of the Royal Household.

c. 1527
c. 1527

John Poyntz & Nicholas Poyntz

A portrait drawing of John Poyntz of Alderley, Gloucestershire (c.1485-1544).

A portrait drawing of Sir Nicholas Poyntz (c.1510-1556). He wears a chain of knighthood and a hat with badges and a feather. Inscribed in an eighteenth-century hand at upper left and right: N Poines…Knight. Sir Nicholas Poyntz was an eager patron of the Renaissance styles which were arriving in England in the early sixteenth century, furnishing a house at Iron Acton in Gloucestershire (visited by Henry VIII in August 1535) with Italian glass and ceramics. Holbein’s drawing reflects Poyntz’ love of fashion, showing him wearing a stylish feathered cap…

c.?1532 – c.?1543; John Poyntz was uncle to Nicholas Poyntz

Elizabeth, Lady Rich

A portrait drawing of Elizabeth, Lady Rich (d.1558), wife of Richard, 1st Baron Rich, daughter of William Jenks.

c.?1532 – c.?1543; a drawing of her husband, Richard Rich is in the Royal Collection

Sir Thomas & Lady Elizabeth Vaux

A portrait drawing of Thomas, 2nd Baron Vaux (1509-1556).  The Lord Vaux. Thomas, 2nd Baron Vaux of Harrowden, succeeded to the title in 1523. In 1532 he travelled to France as a member of Henry VIII’s embassy to meet the French King, and in the same year was made a Knight of the Bath. Vaux was the author of elegiac and melancholy poetry, which was published posthumously in various anthologies. He died from the plague in October 1556.

A portrait drawing of Elizabeth, Lady Vaux (1509-1556), wife of Thomas, 2nd Baron Vaux, and daughter of Sir Thomas Cheney. The Lady Vaux. Elizabeth Vaux was born in 1509, the daughter of Sir Thomas Cheney, an Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII. She became a ward of the 1st Baron Vaux in 1516 and was married to his son Thomas (later 2nd Baron Vaux of Harrowden) before May 1523.

Elizabeth Vaux, c.?1536 and Sir Thomas Vaux, c. 1533
Elizabeth Vaux, c.?1536 and Sir Thomas Vaux, c. 1533

Mary Brandon, Baroness Monteagle & Lady Meutas

A portrait drawing of Mary, Lady Monteagle (1510-before 1544), married to Thomas Stanley, 2nd Lord Monteagle, and daughter of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. She wears a necklace with a jewelled letter ‘M’ pendant, and a medallion.

A portrait drawing of Joan, Lady Meutas (d.1577), wife of Sir Peter Meutas. She wears a headdress, necklace, and pendant.

Mary Brandon, c.?1538 – c.?1540 and Lady Joan Meutas, c.?1536 – c.?1543

Lady Ratcliffe & Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

A portrait drawing of Lady Ratcliffe. She wears a chain and pendant. Inscribed by the artist: damast black, and schwarz felbat (black velvet). Holbein’s drawings are an important source of information for the dress at the court during of Henry VIII. This lady wears a distinctive headdress with a hood lifted up on one side.

A portrait drawing of Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk (1519-1580), fourth wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

Lady Ratcliffe, believed to be Mary Arundell c.?1532 – c.?1543 and Catherine Willoughby c.?1532 – c.?1543

Sir Thomas Strange

A portrait drawing of Sir Thomas Lestrange (c.1490-1545). Sir Thomas Lestrange was an important courtier, holding the post of Squire of the Body (an attendant of the king) in the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. In the 1530s, he retired to his native Norfolk, where he earned a prosperous living from sheep farming.

Sir Thomas Lestrange, c.?1536
Sir Thomas Strange/Lestrange, c.?1536

Sir Charles Wingfield & Lord Thomas Wentworth

A portrait drawing of Sir Charles Wingfield (1513-1540). He wears a medallion on a ribbon against his bare chest. In the upper left corner is a sketch of a wrist with a bracelet containing a ring.

A portrait drawing of Thomas, 1st Baron Wentworth (1501-1551).

Sir Charles Wingfield, c. 1532-1540 and Thomas Wentworth, 1st Baron Wentworth,c. 1532-1543

Sir Thomas Wyatt & Bishop John Fisher

A portrait drawing of Sir Thomas Wyatt (c.1503-1542), a poet who served at the court of Henry VIII.

A portrait drawing of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (c.1469-1535), who became a cardinal in 1535 and was martyred by Henry VIII. The Bishop of Rochester [whose] head was cut [off in] the year 1535). John Fisher was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1504. He was a friend and correspondent of Erasmus, who praised his humility and learning. Fisher was not afraid to declare his beliefs publicly, and became a vocal supporter of Katherine of Aragon during the arguments over the royal divorce. His opposition to the King led to his execution for high treason in 1535, shortly after he had been made Cardinal.

Thomas Wyatt, c.?1535 – c.?1537 and Bishop Fisher, c.?1532 – c.?1534

Mary Shelton, Lady Heveningham & Anne Boleyn

A portrait drawing of Mary, Lady Heveningham (1510/15-1570/71), wife of Sir Anthony Heveningham, daughter of Sir John Shelton, and cousin of Queen Anne Boleyn.

A portrait drawing of a woman traditionally believed to be Anne Boleyn (c.1500-1536), second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.  She wears an informal nightgown lined with fur (possibly the ‘black satin nightgown’ given by Henry to Anne during their courtship), and a linen undercap shaped with wire over the ears and held in place by a band of linen tied at the back. By 1526 the King had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn and after divorcing Katherine of Aragon married Anne in 1533, shortly before the birth of their daughter, Elizabeth. Anne was clever and cultured, but failed to provide Henry with the son he needed. She was charged with adultery and was executed for treason in May 1536. On the verso of the sheet is a sketch of the coat of arms of the Wyatt family and other heraldic studies.

Mary Shelton, cousin to Anne Boleyn, c.?1532 – c.?1543 and sitter believed to be Anne Boleyn, c. 1533-1536

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey & Frances de Vere, Countess of Surrey

A portrait drawing of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/17-1547).He wears a hat with a feather and a high neck shirt. Henry Howard was the childhood companion of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and is today best remembered as the poet who introduced blank verse into English literature. Several painted portraits survive of Howard by Holbein, but none adopt this striking frontal pose. 

A portrait drawing of Frances, Countess of Surrey (1517-1577), wife of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and daughter of John, 15th Earl of Oxford. Frances de Vere married Henry Howard in 1532, and it is possible that these this drawing along with a companion piece of her husband (RL 12215) were made at that time, in preparation for painted portraits.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Frances, Countess of Surrey, c.?1532 – c.?1533

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond & Princess Mary Tudor

A portrait drawing of Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset (c.1519-c.1555), the daughter of Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and sister of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. She was married to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII. The portrait shows the head and shoulders facing the front with downturned eyes. She wears a hat with a feather.

A portrait drawing of Princess Mary (1516-1558), later Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. She wears a pearl necklace and pendant. Mary Tudor was marginalised after her parents’ divorce. Although unpopular with Anne Boleyn, she was welcomed back to court by Jane Seymour and became particularly close to her father’s last wife, Katherine Parr. On Henry’s death, she supported the accession of her brother, but became a vocal opponent of Edward VI’s advisers when they instituted religious reform. Mary inherited the throne in 1553 after overthrowing her rival, Lady Jane Grey.

Mary Howard, c.?1532 – c.?1533 and Lady Mary Tudor, c. 1536

The Unknowns

Unknown and possibly John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
Unknown and possibly John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland


The identities are these women are unknown.
The identities are these women are unknown.


The identities of these women is unknown.
The identities of these women is unknown.


The identities of these women is unknown
The identities of these women is unknown

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Will the real Anne Boleyn please stand up

We all have our favorite Anne Boleyn portraits, right?  I’m going to share with you my favorite one.The way she has always been described leads me to believe that most of the others made her too attractive.

Not one of the handsomest women in the world” reported the Venetian diplomat, Francesco Sanuto, who praised her dark eyes but criticized her flat chest and “swarthy complexion.” – via The Anne Boleyn Myth-Buster: #1, Anne’s Looks

Nicholas Sanders (circa 1530–1581), an English Catholic Priest, for obvious reasons described  Anne this way:

Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth.


This sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger, of Anne, looks like what he describes, except for the blonde hair:










This is MY favorite portrait of Anne – the girl next door…classic beauty, in my opinion.

unknown artist – Hever Castle portrait