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Holbein's Inscriptions

Author(s): Charles D. Cuttler


Source: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 369-382
Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2541954
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SixteenthCenturyJournal
XXIV/2(1993)

Holbein's Inscriptions
CharlesD. Cuttler
University of Iowa
The nature,source,and implicationsof the several styles of inscriptionsand
their dates which Holbein used to identify his sitters are the concernhere.
Emulationof Romancoins or medals seems a given, but the evidence does
not exist;Romancoin inscriptionsrange the circumferenceunlike Holbein's
flanking inscriptions.A possible model is the FlemishpainterMetsys' 1519
Erasmusmedal; here Roman capitals flank the head. Holbein had used
Roman capitals off to the side earlier,but he also used the cartellino, the
scrap of paper with contemporarylettering, used earliest (1497)by Diirer.
Holbeinshows the cartellinoby 1527and conspicuouslyby 1532and 1533in
But by 1532 he had developed his
the Giszeportrait and TheAmbassadors.
last variant,the inscriptionwith Romancapitalsflankingthe head on either
side. This development may have been influenced by northern portrait
medals. The use of classicalletterforms suggesting the power of contemporary letters is seen in numerous Germanpainted portraitsand particularly
in widely circulated engravings, especially those by Diirer. The print
medium, the North's great contributionto the future, also reflectsthe intellectualtenor of the times, to which Holbein responded.
THINKTHATHOLBEIN
ONEMIGHT
identified his portraits by painting names
and dates on the background opposite the subject's head to emulate
Roman coins or medals, but no Roman portrait obverse, coin or medal,
has such a flanking inscription; in antique works the letters always ring
the circumference of the coin. Further, almost no Roman coin shows a
figure in three-quarter or frontal view; not until late (the third quarter of
the third century in a coin of Postumus), is there a frontal coin portrait,
and earlier specimens show the ruler in profile commonly facing right. By
Byzantine times, however, frontal figures are not uncommon as in the
famous coin portrait of Justinian. Thereafter, they are frequent tin Byzantine coins, frontal busts of Christ Pantocrator being popular, too. They
established a model for many medieval coins, medals, and seals, though
the latter usually showed a seated frontal figure, such as a bishop.1

1For a coin of Postumus of 267/268 see the discussion by Jean-Baptiste Giard in Les
graveurs d'acieret la medaille,de l'antiquite a nos jours (Paris: H6tel de la Monnaie, June-October, 1971), exhibit cat. 112, no 37. A coin of 307-310? with a similar frontal image shows the
features of Maxentius; see ibid., p. 114, no. 39. Justinian's frontal coin portrait of 510-512, discussed in an article by Cecile Morrisson, ibid., p. 167, no. 1, continues the type, which is
repeated in Byzantine coinage for centuries, along with the frontal image of Christ, a type

369
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370

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

One possible model for Holbein's effective portrait identification may


have been the well-known Medal of Erasmus made in 1519 by Quentin
Metsys (fig. 1).2 Erasmus is seen in profile to the left, flanked by the
Roman letters ERandROTon the right (i.e., Erasmus of Rotterdam). When
Holbein went to England in 1526, carrying letters to Sir Thomas More
from Erasmus, he traveled by way of Antwerp, where he visited Petrus
Aegidius (Pieter Gillis, city clerk of Antwerp and humanist friend of
Erasmus) and undoubtedly saw Metsys. There is no doubt that he knew
the Metsys medal, while the later Georg Gisze portrait (Berlin-Dahlem,
Gemildegalerie; fig. 2)3 shows that he also knew the type of picture
painted by Quentin Metsys and his follower Marinus van Reymerswaele,
of bankers, money-changers, and tax collectors (what I have called the
occupational portrait),4 such as Metsys' Bankerand His Wifeof 1515 (in the
Louvre, Paris, several versions by Marinus) and the latter's Tax Collectors
(London, National Gallery).5 The type was much emulated in Antwerp in
the second and third quarter of the sixteenth century. The occupational
portrait type of the scholar at work in his study was already known to
Holbein, as witness the Louvre portrait of Erasmus at his Writing Desk,
ca. 1523. Like the dated Longford Castle portrait of Erasmus of 1523, it
recalls the very popular theme of St. Jerome in his study, a type known in
the fourteenth century in Italian work,6 and subsequently in Flemish
painting.
Roman capitals had appeared earlier in Holbein's paintings, as well
as in innumerable medals of the period. In his earliest preserved portrait,
of JacobMeyer zum Hasen (Basel, Offentliche Kunstsammlung), the initials
H. H. in Roman capitals and the date 1516 fill an escutcheon in the frieze
that undoubtedly inspired numerous emulations in Western medieval art. For brilliant
reproductions of some of these coins, see Gerald Hoberman, TheArt of Coins and TheirPhotography (London: Spink/Lund, Humphries, 1981), which include a gold histamenon of Constantine VIII of 1025-28, with a frontal Christ on the obverse (103, 173, 174); a silver penny of
Johann I, abbot of Hersfeld Abbey, of 1201-13, shown frontally (108, 179); a gold ecu d'or of
a frontal enthroned Philip VI of France (110, 181, 182); and standing frontally with scepter
over his shoulder, sword in hand, Sigismund, archduke of Austria, on a coin of 1486 (121,183).
2George F Hill, Medals of the Renaissance, rev. ed. by Graham Pollard (London: British
Museum Publications, 1978), 119f., pl. 22.2.
3For location and illustration of the works of Holbein referred to here and later in this
paper, see John Rowlands, Holbein:ThePaintings ofHans Holbein the Younger(Oxford: Phaidon
Press, 1985), passim. Rowlands illustrates (no. 35, fig. 67) a painted panel of the reverse of the
Erasmus medal, inscribed Terminus,Cleveland Museum of Art, no. 71.166, attributed to Holbein.
4Charles D. Cuttler, Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel, rev. ed. (New York: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston, 1991), 105.
5Ibid., fig. 567; Max J. Friedlander, Early NetherlandishPainting, vol. 12 (Leiden: Sijthoff;
Brussels: La Connaissance, 1975), pls. 94, 96.

6BernhardRidderbos,SaintandSymbol:Imagesof St. Jeromein EarlyItalianArt (Gronin-

gen: Rijksuniversiteit), 1984.

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Holbein'sInscriptions 371

Fig. 1. QuentinMetsys,Medalof Erasmus,1519.(Photo:author)

~'.u.'W-i .

".
....

Fig 2. Hans Holbein the Younger, Geog Gisze, 1532. Beriin,


Genmaldegalerie,StaathicheMuseen Preussischer Kulturbesitz.
J. P.Anders photo. Used by permission.

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372

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

over Meyer's head. A more ample inscription is found in the next early
portrait, that of Benedict von Hertenstein of 1517 (New York, Metropolitan
Museum of Art) as illusionistic carving into the wall to the left. His Basel
portrait of Bonifacius Amerbach of 1519 has the identifying inscription,
again in Roman capitals, inscribed on a tablet hanging from a tree to the
left. The painting of the Dead Christ in the Tombof 1521/22 (in Basel) also
employs classical lettering, while in the Erasmus portrait (Longford
Castle) of 1523, already mentioned, we see Roman as well as Greek capitals on the fore-edges of two of the books in the painting (the Greek
"Labors of Heracles" is an obvious compliment to the sitter). In the portrait of JohannesFroben(Hampton Court) and the 1526 Lais of Corinth (in
Basel) the foreground ledge is illusionistically carved with the identifying
Roman capitals, for which conception no single work need be cited; the
idea is common in northern and Italian works. Venetian painting, e.g.,
works by Bellini and Titian, is only one possible source of inspiration.
There are other Italian areas which Holbein could have emulated, possibly an effect of his trip to France in 1524 where he had the opportunity to
see the work of Leonardo and other Italian artists employed by Francis I.
The idea is even visible in the work of his brother Ambrosius (Portraitof a
Young Man in a Red Hat, Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum), where
the identifying letters are placed in a narrow strip at the bottom of the
painting; to convert a bottom strip into an illusionistic ledge does not
require a great leap of imagination. Even Jan van Eyck's Tymotheosportrait (London, National Gallery) could have furnished a model had it been
available to him, nor should the cartouche and classicizing initials "AD"
on Direr's prints be forgotten as possible models.
A new device for Holbein is the cartellino, the piece of paper with the
identification written on it, as in the portraits of Sir Henry Guildford(Windsor Castle) of 1527; but the pendant portrait of his wife, Mary Wotton,Lady
Guildford(St. Louis, City Art Museum) shows the information as engraved
in Roman capitals on the architrave above and to the left of her head, the
Archbishopof Canterbury,William Warham,friend and patron of Erasmus,
and of the following year, 1528 (both of these in the Louvre), the portrait
of Nicholas Kratzer,astronomer to the king.
A famous earlier scrap of paper that Holbein, one feels, certainly
knew was Griinewald's depiction of St. Anthony's complaint, "Ubi eras,
ubi eras, Jhesu bone,..." [where were you, where were you, good Jesus?]"
conspicuously placed at the right of the Temptationof St. Anthony panel,
then still at the commandery of the Hospital Order of St. Anthony at Isenheim, only forty miles from Basel where Holbein's father was working
after 1516. Admittedly, Griinewald's work (now in the Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar) is not a portrait, nor is a rare early cartellino in Diirer's art, a
scroll in the Hercules and Cacus woodcut (B. 127) of ca. 1497, while Hans

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Holbein'sInscriptions 373
Burgkmair used a cartellino in a portrait as early as 1505.7 The cartellino
was not popular in Germany, where the inscription was commonly
painted on the frame.
In the Netherlands the cartellino was conspicuous by its absence.
Among the rare exceptions that show illusionistic carved letters within the
painted space are Jan van Eyck's aforementioned Timotheusportrait (London, National Gallery) several works by Petrus Christus, and Dirck Bouts'
Man's Portrait of 1462 (also in London)8 has the date carved illusionistically into the wall behind him. In Quentin Metsys' Winterthur, Reinhart
Collection, Male Portraitthe subject holds a small sheet of paper inscribed
ETASMEA 51 DUM SCRIBERETUR
1.5.0.9. FUI IN TERRASANCTA. This is not
a
cartellino,
which,
however,
finally appears in 1522 in Bernard
strictly
van Orley's Virgin and Child and St. Joseph(in Madrid, Museo del Prado).10
Soon the Netherlands adopted the paper type Hans Holbein used
again after his return to England in 1532 when he painted his obeisance to
the Netherlandish Eyckian revival of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the portrait of Georg Gisze (fig. 2). An intended tour de force, except
for the portait of 1533 of TheAmbassadors(London, National Gallery), Holbein did not again spend the time for his clients that such a work entailed;
only royal commissions caused Holbein to use the time and skill necessary
for comparable work. Holbein became a royal painter sometime between
1533 and 1537, but the date can only be surmised because of the loss of
records. After the latter date there is no question of his employment by
Henry VIII for a variety of commissions; the portraits are the chief
examples to be preserved.
By 1532, with his Berlin-Dahlem portrait of Hermann Wedighhe had
introduced his last variant and chief device for identifying inscriptions in
his portraits. We read the identifying Roman capitals ANNO1532to the left,
AETATIS
SVAE29 to the right; they flank the head on either side, and are
painted in abstract space against the background though not of it, for there
are no shadows to place it on the background which is ambiguously neither screen nor wall but colored surface. This is the direct opposite of the
trompe-l'oeil painting of the GeorgGisze portrait of the same year with its
visually active bracketed shelves filled with books, seals, letters, scales,
and other paraphernalia of the merchant's profession.
7"My age, 51, while writing. I have been to the Holy Land." Cuttler, Northern Painting,
fig. 422, pl. 5. There is a question as to the originality of the cartellino of Holbein's Guildford
portrait (Rowlands, Holbein, no. 25); its date is, however, the same as the Warham portrait
cartellino (ibid., no. 27) whose originality is not in doubt.
8Friedlnder, Early NetherlandishPainting, vol. 1 (1967), pls. 17, 73, 74; vol. 3 (1968), pl.
20.

9Cuttler,NorthernPainting,fig. 564.
10Friedlander,Early NetherlandishPainting, vol. 8 (1972), no. 140, pl. 119. The earliest use
of a cartellino in a Netherlandish portrait may be Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen's Self-Portrait of 1533 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum); ibid., vol. 12 (1975), pl. 154.

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374

Sixteenth Century Journal XXIV / 2 (1993)

Brian Tuke,ca. 1533. Washington,


D.C.: National Gallery of Art,
Andrew W. Mellon Collection.Used
by permission.
For this writer, the portrait of Sir Brian Tuke (Washington, National
Gallery of Art; fig. 3), probably of 1533,11in the Wedigh mode, is if not the
finest then one of the finest of Holbein's male portraits. The letters
BRIANUSTVKE,MILES/ AN[N]O AN[NIOETATISSVAE,LVIIrun across the top; in

ET/ AVANT.
The inscription
line with the tip of the nose is the motto DROIT
is independent of the space, yet participates in the overall design. Here, as
in succeeding portraits, spatial depth is only implied in this modernization of traditional northern portrait style; the varied light on the face is led
up to by the more strongly lit hands, which both establish the frontal plane
yet imply depth through the short movement of the arm to our left against
the larger mass of the body. The contradictions of limited spatial movement and the assertion of a flattened surface plane give this and subsequent portraits the feeling of mannered tension in opposition to elegance
of detail and subtlety of surface animation that defines the northern Mannerist portrait, of which Hans Holbein was the greatest practitioner.
The possible influences on this development of the inscription that
eventuates in the Roman capital letter afloat in the field have never been
sufficiently examined. The example of Quentin Metsys' Medal of Erasmus
has been mentioned and remains a possibility, for there is no question that
11John0. Hand, "The Portrait of Sir Brian Tukeby Hans Holbein," Studies in the History
of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington 9 (1980): 49, author's note, dated as after 1532 on
dedrochronological evidence. Rowlands (cat 64) notes five additional versions of this work,
an unusually large number. He also transcribes the quotation on the paper NVNQUDNON
FINIEUR BREVI?from Job 10'20, "Are not my days few?" which he
DIERUM/ MEORUM
PAVCIAS
thinks may be a later addition. He also prefers a date of about 1538-40, which seems too late.

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Holbein'sInscriptions 375

Fig. 4. recto:MaximilianI (1459-1519),Archdukeof Austria(1459),Emperor(1493);


verso:Maryof Burgundy,his wife1477,died1482.Anonymous Germanor Austrian,
1479.Washington,D.C.:NationalGalleryof Art,SamuelH. KressCollection.Used
by permission.

Holbein, like Diirer, was influenced by his Flemish predecessors and contemporaries, witness his introduction of softer and subtler gradations
after 1532, Flemish style affecting him as it had Dfirer. Other models are
possible besides the Metsys medal for the identifying inscriptions on his
portraits.
But what or who inspired Metsys? A well-known northern painting
related to a medal is Hans Memlinc's Antwerp Portrait of a Man with a
Medal of ca. 147580.12 Memlinc's medalist holds a Neronic coin, its subject faces left but its inscription rings the medal's edge in normative manner. However, Memlinc's figure has never been identified and there are no
inscriptions except those on the coin. Perhaps Metsys and Holbein were
inspired by a medal that both could have known. Such a medal exists: of
1479, it represents Maximilian I as Archdukewith Mary of Burgundy in hennin and veil on the reverse, the words ETATLS
19 79 across the field on the
obverse and ETATIS20 across the field on the reverse (fig. 4).13 In addition
to the Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy medal, Metsys could have been
inspired by the medals of Pisanello, which were undoubtedly known to
2Cuttler, Northern Painting, fig. 223.
13George F Hill, The Gustave Dreyfus Collectin, RenaissanceMedals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931), p. 616, pL 125. An earlier medal, representing Heraclius, one of two associated with Jean, Duke of Berry shows both Greek and Latin inscriptions flanking the profile
head of the Byzantine monarch; see Stephen K Scher, et aL, "Gothic, Renaissance, and
Baroque Medals from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston," The Medal 9, Special Issue (1986):
84-87. A work of the early fifteenth century attributed to Michelet Saulmon, painter to Jean
de Berry, and possibly made between 1402 and 1413, it seems to have had little subsequent
influence in the North in the fifteenth century.

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376

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

the classical scholars and humanists of the era.14Petrus Aegidius, humanist, friend of Erasmus and Antwerp city clerk already painted by Metsys,
might have owned such a medal or known of one to furnish a model to the
painter if he was unaware of the Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy
medal.
Painted coins, though less likely as models, appear in many works
such as Metsys' own 1515 Bankerand His wife, which in its turn was probably based on a work related to Petrus Christus' St. Eligius as a Goldsmith
of 1449 (in New York), 15 itself possibly reflecting an Eyckian model. But
so far as can be told, none of the painted coins has lettering acrossthe field.
Metsys also could have known Diirer's Munich 1500 Self-Portrait,
which shows his monogram and date at the left of the head and a Latin
inscription to the right,1 but the record of Metsys' travels away from Antwerp has never been discovered, so there is no way of knowing whether
his inspiration was Direr's earlier example, certainly then in Nuremberg
in the artist's possession, or an original thought-never an impossibility
with a creative artist. There is now a complete lack of antique painted
models that could have inspired Metsys and Holbein, but there is another
possible model in addition to Diirer's picture. That is Jean Fouquet's
round enamel Self-Portraitof ca. 1450 (in the Louvre; a companion piece of
Believers and Unbelievers was destroyed in 1945), signed with the artist's
name in vertical semi-Roman letters with flourishes and a medieval abbreviation (fig. 5). Holbein could have seen it on his trip to France in 1524
before he went to England, and it has even been thought to be the source
or at least a forerunner for Holbein's circular portraits.17
Another medal Holbein could have known has a later date than
Metsys' Erasmus medal; knowledge of it could have reinforced other
models. A medal of 1524 of FerdinandI, Archdukeof Austria on the obverse
14Hill, Dreyfus Collection,passim, knew of six medals by Pisanello, and three other medals of like nature not by Pisanello; two more are listed in Ulrich A. Middeldorf and Dagmar
Stiebral, RenaissanceMedals and Plaquettes (Florence: Studio per Edizioni Scelte, 1983), nos. I,
XXXII.These also have letters across the medal either on both sides of the obverse image or
only on one. Pisanello preferred to put all the text on one side in two short lines, normally
behind the profile image. For an exception of recent discovery see Ulrich Middeldorf, "Zu
einige Medaillen der Italienischen Renaissance," FestschriftWolfgangBraunfels (Tuibingen:E.
Wasmuth, 1977), 264, fig. 2. Also see for a variant Cornelius C. Vermuele III, "Graeco-Roman
Asia Minor to Renaissance Italy: Medallic and Related Art," Studies in the History of Art, vol.
21, Italian Medals, ed. J. Graham Pollard, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Symposium Paper VIII (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1987), fig. 18, Alphonso V,
King of Naples and Sicily, 1449, and fig. 25, Lodovico III Gonzaga, 1475.
15Cuttler,Northern Painting, fig. 155.
16Ibid.,fig. 411.
17Ibid.,fig. 265. The suggestion that the Fouquet portrait was a Holbein antecedent was
made by Oswald Goetz, "Holbeins Bildnis des Simon George of Quecoute, Ein Beitrag zur
Geschichte des Rundbildes," Stidel-Jahrbuch7-8 (1932): 133; see Grete Ring, A Century of
FrenchPainting 1400-1500 (London: Phaidon Press, 1949), nos. 124, 125.

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Inscriptions 377

Fig. 5. JeanFouquet,Self Portrait,ca. 1450.Paris:Louvre.(Photo:Giraudon)

I (1503-64),Archduke
(1556);verso:
Fig. 6. recto:Ferdinand
ofAustria(1519),Emperor
Annaof Hungary,his wife(1521).AnonymousGermanor Austrian,1524.(Washington, D.C.,NationalGalleryof Art SamuelH. KressCollection.Used by permission.)
across the field AN[N]OETATIS]
SVEXXI;on the reverse is his wife, Anne of
across
the
field
is
SVEXX(fig. 6).18There are sevAN[N]OAETATIS]
Hungary;
18Hill, Dreyfus Collection,no. 619, pl. 126. The medal may have had an influence on Hans
Schwarz, maker of the medal of Melchior Pfinzing of Nuremberg of 1519, which shows,
rather tentatively one feels, the letters AETANNOxxxvm across the field on the obverse. Pfinzing was privy secretary to Emperor Maximilian and one of the principal authors of Theurdank, the epic of Maximilian's courtship of Mary of Burgundy. A member of the Nuremberg
patriciate, Pfinzing was provost of the Sebalduskirche there (since 1512) and, since 1517, also
provost of Sankt Alban in Mainz. Pfinzing could well have suggested this emulation of his
patron; illustrated in John P. O'Neil, ed., Gothic and RenaissanceArt in Nuremberg1300-1550
exhibit catalog (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), nos. 215, 416. Another work
in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, also dated 1519, is a male portrait by Sebastiano del
Piombo with a two-line inscription in Roman capital letters along the top edge identifying
the sitter as Christopher Columbus; however, it has been decided that the inscription is a
later addition; see Midrael Hirst, Sebastianodel Piombo (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), 110. There
is no other portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo so signed, nor does it agree with another portrait of Columbus believed to be authentic. Further, there is little likelihood the work could
have been seen by Holbein, nor has the exact time been fixed for the added inscription.

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378

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

eral other medals that could have been known to Holbein, but the Maximilian and Ferdinand medals are as likely to have been known as the
Metsys exemplar, thereby providing accessible models to an artist alert to
the sources of his art. But there are more.
A circular portrait miniature of Franqois I attributed to Jean Clouet of
1518 or 1519 shows the monarch in three-quarter view with the flanking
letters F M (Franciscus Magnus) in gold above the shoulders.19This miniature anticipates Holbein's painted Roman capitals flanking the head.
Done in black chalk and gouache, here is a possible model that Holbein
might have encountered in France in 1524, though the manuscript in
which it appears was then in the king's possession and the chances of its
becoming known to an itinerant painter is not strong. Holbein is far more
likely to have seen one of three (possibly more) round portrait miniatures
of Henry VIII of ca. 1525 (fig. 7) that have been attributed to Lucas Horenbout (Hornebaud, Hornebolt) and are the most likely candidates to have
influenced Holbein's last inscription style. It, however, cannot be documented for seven more years.20 The use of letters across the field was-in
preserved painted examples-first seen in Jean Clouet's miniature of
1518/19 of Francis I, and is next seen in Master Lucas's portraits of Henry
VIII of ca. 1525. The device is not found in contemporary Flemish or German portraiture (Diirer, we remember, died in 1528) and thus could well
have been an invention of Master Lucas, inspired by those elements of
influence already discussed.
19Themanuscript, Les Commentairesde la GuerreGalliqueI London, British Museum, MS
Harley, 6206, fol. 3, dates from 1518; Peter Mellen, JeanClouet (London: Phaidon, 1971, 43f., no.
126, pl. I, fig. 16.
20Rowlands, Holbein,89, nn. 17-19, indicates that, according to Carel van Mander, Holbein
learned illuminating from an artist named Lucas; see Carel van Mander, Het Schilder-boek
(Haarlem, 1604), fol. 222b; English trans., Constant van de Wall, Dutch and Flemish Painters
(New York:McFarlane, Ward, McFarlane, 1936), 89. Lucas has been assumed to be the painter
of three miniatures of Henry VIII, two in the Queen's Gallery, London, Buckingham Palace;
Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII (London: Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 1978-79),
nos. 89, 90, pp. 131ff., and the third in Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum. Lucas has also been
assumed to be Lucas Horenbout, who was paid for work for the Crown in September 1525. In
1534, he was made King's Painter for life and allowed to have four foreign assistants. He died
in 1544. His father, Gerard, a painter at Ghent, was admitted to the guld in 1487 as painter and
miniaturist; between 1517 and 1521 he was painting at the court of Margaret of Austria at
Malines and was visited by Diirer in 1521, who spoke of him as a miniaturist. He is recorded in
England working for Henry VIII between September 1525 and October 1528; mentioned with
his daughter Susanna in 1528, he may be the "paynter of Gaunt [who] executed portraits of
Henry VIII ... for a window in the church of St. Nicolas at Calais" in 1514. He left England
about 1532, returning to Ghent, where he died before 1541; see Lome Campbell, Susan Foister,
"Gerard, Lucas and Susanna Horenbout," BurlingtonMagazine 128 (1986): 719-27. It becomes
clear that all three members of the family could have had an influence on Holbein. However, it
must be remembered that Holbein and his brother were trained by their father, Hans Holbein
the Elder; to assume that Hans the Younger was ignorant of the miniaturist's technique seems
to run contrary to the normal training of artists of the day.

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Holbein'sInscriptions 379

Fig. 7. Attrib.LucasHorenbout, Hery VIII,ca. 1525.


Cambridge: Fitzwilhiam
Museum. Used by permission

Investigation of the sources and development of Holbein's models for


his inscriptions has carried us from a use of Roman-that is, Renaissance-letters in his early portraits to a brief revived Gothicism expressed
in the naturalism of the scraps of paper, the cartellini. The tour de force of
the Eyckian revival represented by the GeorgGisze portrait and TheAmbassadors is a culmination of this naturalism. Soon he developed in his portraits a new use of the Roman capital letter inscription that suggests the
partial inspiration of contemporary works such as those by Lucas rather
than antique works. Holbein's satisfaction with the Roman capital letter
used in this new, ceative, and essentially Mannerist mode is remarked in
most of his portraits from 1532 until his death in 1543.
In this new mode for identification that suggests the power of letters,
Holbein seems to have responded on his return to England to the intellectual and artistic level of Antwerp and the cultural level of the men of letters of the court of Henry VII There called "The Apelles of our time," his
response to that culture is comparable to the response of his artistic contemporaries Cranach and Direr to theirs: he undoubtedly knew the prints
of Lucas Cranach, such as the 1520 portrait of Luther as an Augustinian
Monk (B. 5) and the profile
profile portrait
portrait of Lutherof 1521 (B. 6), both of which

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380

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

show inscriptions with Roman capital letters.21 Roman capital letters


make up the inscription above the head of Cranach's painted portrait (private collection) of Dr. ChristophScheurl, Nuremberg humanist, jurist and
professor at Wittenberg, later legal advisor of Nuremberg,22 signed and
dated 1509. Its Roman capital letters are much earlier than any work by
Holbein, who in 1509 was only eleven or twelve years old. Scheurl's Bookmark of about 1510 also uses Roman capitals in its inscription.23 The
inscription on Scheurl's portrait presents his motto: "Fortes fortuna formidat"(Fortune stands in awe of the strong).With its emphasis on Fortune it
would be difficult to find a more humanistic motto. Roman capitals are
also seen in Cranach's portrait of GeorgSpalatin,humanist and secretary to
Frederick the Wise of Saxony: ANNOETATIS
26ANNODOMINI1509.24Further,
it is appropriate that Roman capitals are used against the dark background of Cranach's Venusand Cupid (St. Petersburg: Hermitage Museum)
of 150925 and in the Nymph of the Fountain (Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Kiinste), 1519, one of several treatments of a thoroughly classical
subject.26
Despite the parallels with the art of Cranach, Albrecht Diirer is an
even more important and likely model for the use of classic capital letters
in Holbein's painted inscriptions. Diirer's influence came through his
prints: his earliest work to use both Greek and Latin capitals (and
Hebrew) is the PirckheimerBookplate,possibly around 1500 (B. app. 52),
while around 1502 he created three woodcuts for Conrad Celtis (the frontispieces to the Quatuor libri amorum,Celtis presentinghis bookto Maximilian
I and the Allegory of Philosophy), which employ Latin and Greek in both
capital and lowercase letters: Roman letters are also found in the later
woodcuts of Maximilian I (1519, B. 154) and Ulrich Varnbiihler, imperial
21DieterKoepplin, Tilman Falk, et al., LukasCranach,Gemdlde,Zeichnungen,Druckgraphik,KunstmuseumBasel exhibit catalog (Basel:BirkhauserVerlag,1974),1:91-94, nos.
35, 36, figs. 32-35.
22MaxJ.Friedlanderand JakobRosenberg,ThePaintingsof LucasCranach,rev.ed. (Ithaca:CornellUniversityPress,1978),no. 23.
23Scheurl's
bookmark,showing a fashionablydressedyoung woman standingbetween
two coats of arms,also employs Romancapitalsin its inscription;see Koepplin,Falk,Lukas
no. 135,fig. 97.
Cranach,
24Lastknown location: Munich, Helbing Sale, February15, 1933; Friedlanderand
no. 24.
Rosenberg,Paintingsof Cranach,
25Friedlander
and Rosenberg,Paintingsof Cranach,
no. 22.
26CharlesW. Talbot,Jr.,"An Interpretationof Two Paintingsby Cranachin the Artist's
Late Style,"NationalGalleryof Art ReportandStudiesin theHistoryof Art 1967 (Washington,
D.C.:NationalGalleryof Art, 1967):78-85;for the ancientand Italiansourcesof the theme of
the sleeping nymph, see Elisabeth B. MacDougall, "The Sleeping Nymph: Origins of a
HumanistFountainType,"Art Bulletin57 (1975):357-65.
Thereis a later connectionof Holbein and Cranach,for the Cranachshop turned out
numeroussmall roundportraitsof Erasmusand Melanchthon,based on models by Holbein
sent to Wittenberg,possibly as a gift;see Koepplin,Falk,LukasCranach,
1:274ff.,294,no. 176.

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Holbein'sInscriptions 381

xi-

Fig. 8. Albrecht Diirer, Erasmus(B.


107), 1526. Washington, D.C.:
National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald
Collection.Used by permission.

""

.;t A?
..'EI

advisor and protonotary of the supreme court of Maximilian I's empire


(1522, B. ).27The engravings of Albrecht of Brandenburg (1519 B. 102; 1523
B.103), Frederick the Wise (1524, B. 104), and Willibald Pirckheimer (1524,
B. 106), and particularly the engraved portraits of Melanchthon (B. 105)
and Erasmus (B.107; fig. 8),28 present notable examples of Diirer's use of
classical capitals in identifying inscriptions. More than any other works,
such engravings and woodcuts from at least 1519 on undoubtedly
inspired Clouet and Horenbout and set the stage for Holbein's adoption of
classical capitals as a strong element in his inscriptions, especially in the
late inscription style after 1532. A model to all, the Diirer prints attest to
the strong interest in antique letters and writings that dominated in the
humanistic intellectual circles of the scholars in Nuremberg, Vienna, and
elsewhere in Europe and in the ranks of the publishers of Basel, to which
Holbein was early exposed. It is important to note here that Roman capitals are almost invariable when the persons portrayed by Diirer as well as
by Cranach were humanists connected either with the circle of Conrad
27Walter Strauss, Albrecht Direr Woodcuts and Woodblocks(New York: Abaris Books,
1980); for the works for Celtis, see nos. 66-68; for the Maximilian portrait, see no. 190, pp.
543-47; for the Vanmbihler print, see no. 16.
28Walter Strauss, The Intaglio Prints of Albrecht Diirer: Engravings, Etchings and DryPoints, 3rd ed. (New York: Kennedy Galleries and Abaris Books, 1981), nos. 97,101,102,104,
105. For the humanistic spirit inherent in inscriptions in Direr engravings see Nancy Thomson de Grummond, "VV and Related Inscriptions in Giorgione, Titian, And Diirer," Art Bulletin 57 (1975): 346-56.

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382

Sixteenth CenturyJournal XXIV / 2 (1993)

Celtis or related to it; Gothic letter forms are in the minority in such
inscriptions, an association that, it seems, was not lost on Holbein. Less of
an inventor than Diirer, essentially more of an assimilator by comparison,
Holbein responded to the intellectual spirit of his times. Not without reason was he taken up by the leading humanists such as Erasmus, Gillis, Sir
Thomas More, and the leaders at the English court.
Holbein's interest in the classical past was expressed in his portraiture
by an apparent borrowing from contemporary medals and miniatures and
it was given further impetus above all by the great new invention of the
period-the North's revolutionary contribution to the spread of classical
in its varied aspects. Holthought and concrete knowledge-printing
bein's evolving inscription style is a witness not only to sixteenth-century
Humanism but equally to the progress, strength, and power of this new
medium.

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