Without the genius of Holbein we, like his subjects would never have known Henry VIII.
As Guy (2003) tells us "Henry VIII has an instantly recognizable image. An image that modern public relations consultants would call a 'brand'. It is so powerful, that it has become an icon of the British Monarchy itself."2 One man was almost single-handedly responsible for that image - Hans Holbein. We will investigate how this artist changed forever the way by which the monarchy is viewed.
Hans Holbein the younger first made his way to London in 1526. Introduced to Sir Thomas More by a mutual friend, Erasmus, Holbein was welcomed into London society and initially lived with More and his family. This was a period of religious upheaval in Europe; the Reformation was underway. On a return trip to his native Basel in 1528, Holbein found that many of his early religious works had been removed from the church by order of the city council.
Returning to England in 1532, Holbein found that his friend More had fallen from power. ...
The country was embroiled in religious upheaval as Henry VIII was at that point negotiating with the Pope for granting of a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. According to the Royal Collection archives (2006) Holbein was first officially recognised as the Court's artist in 1532; however, it is surmised that he had actually assumed that role in 1528.3 Henry VIII has, since he became king, fascinated the world. Most notably, the fascination lies in that no one has been able to truly define his motivations. Add into that the tumultuous surroundings of his reign, from the Reformation through his six wives, and it becomes obvious that Henry VIII was a mystery. A great deal of the continued curiosity into the life of Henry VIII can be attributed to one man. He immortalised the monarch then and now the legacy is just as apparent. As Head (2001) stated:
Interest in Henry has persisted for good reason. His reign marked the beginning of the English Reformation, and, whatever Henry's real motives, great events beget great debatesYet Henry fascinates as well because he is seemingly a man larger than life. We can glimpse some of his magnetism in Hans Holbein's portraits of the mature Henry: we see a thick-set and powerful figure, richly dressed, aglitter with fine jewels, every inch a king, with thin lips, narrowed eyes, and the shrewd, commanding presence which contemporaries often felt and described.4
Upon his return to England, Holbein's most important commission to date was 'The Ambassadors' which now hangs in the National Gallery. According to Roberts (1997) this first work following Holbein's return to England conveys the religious struggle felt within the country during this period of the