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Hans Holbein the Elder

Portrait of a Woman, around 1510

If the identity of the woman in this painting remains a mystery, many experts agree that this portrait is one of the most interesting of those by Hans Holbein the Elder, who died in Isenheim in 1524. Moreover, it is the only painting by this artist held in a French public collection.

 

Painted between 1510 and 1512, this work is typical of the end of the late Gothic period which, in painting as in architecture or sculpture, had begun to reflect Renaissance ideas. Holbein’s portrait, with its meticulous attention to detail, the nearly calligraphic delineation applied to the laces and shoulder straps of the bodice, exemplifies the Gothic predilection for linearity. In contrast, the angled pose together with the attempt to render the personality and character of the sitter incorporate the latest advances of the Renaissance, which placed man at the centre of its world view. This portrait is also exceptional for its painterly aspects, such as the intensity of the green background, which blends with the deep black of the subject’s garment, making the face of this woman, with its drawn expression, all the more poignant.

 

The aesthetic qualities of this work compel a re-examination of the role played in the development of German art by Hans Holbein the Elder, often overlooked today due to the fame achieved by his son.

 

Hans Holbein the Elder
 

Hans Holbein the Elder, Portrait of a Woman, around 1510. Oil on wood, Musée Unterlinden, Colmar.