This admirable Painter was instructed in the art
by his father JOHN HOLBEIN. In the early part of his life, he pursued
his studies with incessant assiduity; and being possessed of
an elevated genius, his
progress was exceedingly rapid; so that he soon became far superior
to his instructor. He painted equally well in oil, water colours,'
and in fresco; and although he had never practised the art of painting
in miniature till he resided in England, yet he afterwards carried
it to its highest perfection.
The invention of Holbein was suprisingly
fruitful, and often poetical; his execution was remarkably quick,
and his application indefatigable. His pencil was exceedingly
delicate; his coloring had a wonderful degree of force; he finished
his pictures with
exquisite neatness; and his carnations
were life itself.
He excelled all his cotemporaries in portrait, and his genuine
works are always distinguishable by thetrue, round, lively imitation
of flesh visible in them, and also by the amazing delicacy of his
The genius and excellence of this master were sufficiently shewn
in the historical style, by two celebrated compositions which he
painted in the Hall of the Steel-yard Company; of
which the subjects were the Triumph
of Riches, and the condition of Poverty: these two are universally admired
for the richness of the colouring, as also for the strong character
of tho figures through
Zucchero, on seeing these pictures, expressed the highest esteem for Holbein,
and even copied them in Indian ink.
In the town of Basil he painted a picture of our Saviour's Sufferings,
as well as a Dance of Peasants.
Abbé du Bus observes, that
the altar-piece at Basil, painted by Holbein, may be compared with
the best productions of Raphael's disciples for composition,
and preferred to them with respect to colouring; that he shews a greater degree
of knowledge of the chiaro-scuro, and particular incidents of light that are
truly marvellous. But that which contributed most to raise and establish the
reputation of this celebrated Painter was Death's Dance, designed and painted
by him in the town-house of Basil; a work truly admirable, and which alone was
sufficient to render the name of Holbein immortal.
Sandrart relates, that he heard
Rubens acknowledge, that he had learned a great deal from the
pictures of Death's Dance; and he recommended them strongly to
the study of many of his own profession.
The learned Erasmus was so much struck
by the wonderful display of genius exhibited in this great work,
that he conceived a strong friendship for Holbein; sat
to him for his picture; and recommended him to Sir Thomas Moore, the then
of England: and to this incident our country is indebted for the many excellent
performances which it afterwards received from the pencil of Holbein.
designs for Death's Dance were cut in wood by Holbein, and published
with the original texts from which they were taken; from that work the
following plates were done. They contain the whole of Death's Dance,
with borders and
to which are added, a description of each plate ...
and a portrait of Holbein.