Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein by Franny Moyle

Hans Holbein the Younger - a self portrait

Yesterday I started listening to podcast The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein on BBC Sounds on my iPhone. 

It's Book of the Week this week - and there's an episode being broadcast every day. Each is available on BBC Sounds for 30 days from the date of the first broadcast. 

The thing I love about BBC Sounds is you can save them up and (my personal favourite) download them and then splurge on listening to a number of episodes while taking a walk - or chopping the vegetables....

The book by Franny Moyle isn't published until later this month (see below). She's apparently got a good track record of analysing painter's methods (having also written about Turner) - but I've not got to that bit yet

The reader is the theatre and television actor Sir Simon Russell Beale. I was left wondering if he was chosen for a certain likeness to Holbein himself - or maybe Henry VIII - whose portrait Holbein famously painted.....

That's because, to be honest, Beale reads rather too fast for my liking and without enough change of pace or intonation. See what you think.

However, when it comes to the book, I'm getting a very good impression. Content wise, the book is fascinating about his background and family and the ways of the world for artists and artisans in 16th century Europe. I'm looking forward to Episodes 2-5 of this story of the extraordinary life of this outstanding artist of the 16th century.

This is the synopsis.

Hans Holbein the Younger became court painter to Henry VIII and was regarded as a phenomenon in his day for his ability to bring the characters he painted to life.

His famous portrait of the Tudor King was so life like spectators fully expected arms and legs to move. One of his paintings of the dead Christ was so alarming that, when the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky saw it in 1867, he was so troubled by it that his wife had to drag him away fearing he might have an epileptic fit.

Holbein observed the extraordinary events of his century up close and painted the movers and shakers of the age including Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, as well as the various women lined up to become the wives of the king, such as Anne of Cleves.

He was a contributor to the history of book design as well as designing jewellery, and elaborate weaponry. With a family in Basel and another in London, his life was as colourful as the times he lived through.


Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 - 1543) was an extraordinarily talented draftsman and painter from a very young age. He went on to become one of the most important painters in 16th century Europe.

He has long been a favourite painter of mine - but I don't know a lot about him other than the research I did for a couple of previous posts (below) - which includes references to more information about him


Lady with a Squirrel
- one of my favourite Holbein portraits

I also produced a website About Hans Holbein - Famous Portrait Painter which I must transfer at some point to a better platform 

My sketch from
the Holbein Exhibition at the Tate (2007)
from the days when I routinely took
sketchbook, pen and coloured pencils
to all exhibitions


The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein by Franny Moyle

Book cover

The book The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein by the art historian Franny Moyle is not published until later this month.  

Hans Holbein the Younger is chiefly celebrated for his beautiful and precisely realised portraiture, which includes representations of Henry VIII, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne of Cleves, Jane Seymour and an array of the Tudor lords and ladies he encountered during the course of two sojourns in England. But beyond these familiar images, which have come to define our perception of the world of the Henrician court, Holbein was a protean and multi-faceted genius: a humanist, satirist, political propagandist, and contributor to the history of book design as well as a religious artist and court painter. The rich layers of symbolism and allusion that characterise his work have proved especially fascinating to scholars.

Franny Moyle traces and analyses the life and work of an extraordinary artist against the backdrop of an era of political turbulence and cultural transformation, to which his art offers a subtle and endlessly refracting mirror.

Publication details are as follows

  • Publisher: Head of Zeus 
  • ISBN: 9781788541213 
  • Number of pages: 576 
  • Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm 
  • Hardback Publication Date:  27th May 2021
  • Hardback Retail price:  £35
  • Paperback Publication Date: 3rd March 2022
  • Paperback Retail Price: ?
  • Waterstones pre-order: £31.99
  • Amazon UK pre-order
    • hardback pre-order £30.80 (from 27 May)
    • paperback pre-order £9.99
    • Kindle pre-order £6.49 (from 27 May)

Safe to say at 576 pages, the radio programme must be a greatly abridged version since each episode is only 14 minutes long - and it takes me a great deal more than 70 minutes to read a book of that length!  

Plus it doesn't have the illustrations!

Nevertheless, it's likely to wet the appetite of quite a few people interested in portraiture and art history.

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