In Frankfurt, the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger under Italian influence


Inset portrait of Simon George of Cornwall (c. 1535-1540), by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Born from an initiative of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the exhibition “Holbein and the Renaissance in the North” presented by the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, under the leadership of its curator, Jochen Sander, is of rare importance for the the history of art. Even if the title, designed to attract the visitor, is a mild form of fraud: the father, Hans Holbein the Elder (1460-1524), is much better represented than the son, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) , yet the star of the family.

By him, only four paintings are shown, perhaps five: the medallion portrait of a young nobleman, Simon George of Cornwall, produced during the painter’s long stay at the court of Henry VIII, King of England, which is in the museum collections; the very damaged but still very beautiful altar painting representing the Virgin and Christ with Saint Martin and Saint Ours (Ursus), known as “The Madonna of Solothurn” from the name of the Swiss town where it is kept; the astonishing Madonna of Darmstadt, today in the Würth collection, exhibited at Schwäbisch Hall (Germany), and the portrait of Jakob Meyer, mayor of Basel, who was also the sponsor of the previous painting and presents a disturbing resemblance to Gérard Depardieu! The possible fifth is a discovery, or rather a very recent attribution due to the curator of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Bodo Brinkmann, a portrait of Marx Fischer. It is dated 1512, which would make it the oldest known painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, then aged 15… Comparing it with the tondo of Simon George of Cornwall, we can see how far we have come.

But the purpose of the exhibition is elsewhere: it is about describing the atmosphere of the beginning of the 16the century in Germany and to show that Hans Holbein the Younger, the “Vinci of the North” as he was sometimes nicknamed, did not emerge from nowhere, that his art was forged by multiple influences. Starting with that of his father, Hans Holbein the Elder, who taught him the trade, but also of his uncle, Sigmund Holbein (1475-1540), even of his older brother, Ambrose (1494-1519). The four Holbeins are present at the Städel Museum, which is organizing a charming family reunion. Neighbors, near or far, are also involved. And everything is placed in a particular historical context, that of the artists and sponsors of the hometown of Hans Holbein the Younger, Augsburg, in Bavarian Swabia.

Fugger Clan Money

Obligatory crossroads for goods transiting from Italy to northern Europe by land, via Switzerland, Augsburg is, at the end of the 15th centurye century, one of the most opulent cities in Germany. The emperors made it one of their favorite stays, they often held their diets there, emblies bringing together the various potentates of the Empire. Maximilian Ier Charles V presided over two, in 1500 and in 1518, four. He himself owed his election as emperor, facing Francis Ierto the money coming from Augsburg (the voters, princes as they were, did not hate being bribed), that paid by the Fugger clan: weavers then merchants who became bankers, they were part of the families the most fortunate of the time. Jacob Fugger (1459-1525), son of the founder of the dynasty, extended the family business throughout the European continent.

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