Draftsmanship, social networking, and cultural history : the portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Elder (ca. 1465-1524)

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2015-05

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Carlson, Alisa Louise McCusker

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Abstract

Hans Holbein the Elder (ca. 1465-1524) was a successful and prolific painter and draftsman, who lived and worked mainly in the southern German city of Augsburg. In addition to being master of a workshop that produced large-scale religious works, Holbein produced numerous drawings, of which over two hundred have been preserved from throughout his career. The vast majority of Holbein’s surviving drawings – about one hundred sixty – are portraits or head studies, originally made in silverpoint in small, portable sketchbooks. The quantity and medium of his drawings indicate that taking portraits was a habitual part of Holbein’s practice, if not a preoccupation for him. His portrait drawings depict a range of Augsburg’s populace, including men, women, and children, representing a variety of social classes and professions. On several drawings he even identified his sitters clearly with inscriptions of their names, ages, occupations, or other claims to fame. Collectively, they offer the artist’s perspective on the bustling urban center in which he lived and worked as well as suggest his place within that milieu. This dissertation examines Holbein’s portrait drawings in terms of their material and technical production as well as their potential historical, social, and cultural significance. This study describes the characteristics that typify Holbein’s portrait drawings and establishes standards for attributing works to him, his workshop, and others, as well as offers paleographical analysis of his drawings’ inscriptions. Because his portraits present so much textual information that has otherwise been overlooked, questions of who the people of Holbein’s portraits are and what their portrayals reveal about themselves and about the artist can be considered. Applying sociological theories of social capital and networking, this study proposes that Holbein’s portrait drawings survive as important records of his social network and reveal insights into his social experiences and practices. Holbein’s portrait drawings also offer numerous social and cultural cues through his depictions of the clothes and adornments of his sitters. Finally, this project considers Holbein’s legacy in European portraiture, especially as inherited by his more famous son, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98-1543).

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