Portrait of a Young Woman, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London), Oil and gold on oak

Portrait of a Young Woman

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London)
ca. 1540–45
Oil and gold on oak
11 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (28.3 x 23.2 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
Not on view
The style of this young woman's sumptuous attire indicates that she was most likely a member of the English royal court from about 1540–47, during the time of Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. The woman must have been of the highest levels of society, although her exact identity remains elusive. Most recently, James and Franco (2000) have suggested that she is Catherine Howard on the basis of her similarity to the sitter in a portrait miniature at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. Although the portraits share certain details of costume and ornament, the physiognomies of the sitters are strikingly different. Another group of portraits perhaps offers a closer comparison for the sitter here. These works represent the woman, usually identified as Howard, who is found in two miniatures (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, and Duke of Buccleuch collection, Boughton House) and in a larger panel painting (Toledo Museum of Art). These portraits all present, though in reverse, a three-quarter view of a lady with folded hands; the miniatures feature the French hood with decorative biliments and the square, elaborately decorated neckline, while the Toledo portrait has the puffy sleeves with aiglets. However, the poor condition and considerably restored face of the MMA portrait preclude any determination of whether the sitter can be identified with that in the other paintings. Nevertheless, the details of costume do suggest that it was produced about 1540–45. According to the heavily reinforced but original inscription, the woman was seventeen years old at the time her portrait was made.

Because it generally exhibits typical characteristics of Holbein portraiture, this picture was at first highly praised and confidently attributed to the artist. Yet, by the mid-1870s, when the second edition of Woltmann's Holbein monograph appeared, the painting was identified as "presumably Holbein," and Woltmann's changed opinion initiated the negative assessments that the picture subsequently received. Some have considered it a clever pastiche, possibly from the artist's late portraits, while others still gave it to Holbein's workshop. In the 1995 summary catalogue of the Museum's collection of European paintings, Baetjer designated it a British copy in the style of Holbein from the second half of the sixteenth century.

Despite its poor state and the absence of Holbein's sophisticated execution in the face and details of the costume, technical investigation (see Additional Images) did reveal the routine methods of portraits made in the artist's workshop during the 1540s. There is no extant preparatory drawing for the portrait, but the rigid underdrawing outlining the head and facial features indicated a one-to-one transfer from a pattern on paper to the prepared panel, the customary practice devised by Holbein for portraits made from 1532 to 1543, during his second period in England. Also as was typical in his workshop, the hands here are more freely underdrawn, with tentative strokes of a pen or brush loosely defining the form. Finally, the most spontaneous brush underdrawing in Holbein's paintings is usually employed for the costumes, as seen here in the red slashing in the woman's sleeves. Later sixteenth-century copies do not generally exhibit these specific characteristics and are often of a different scale than the associated drawing by Holbein or the original painted portrait. In addition to these details of handling and execution, dendrochronology supported an earliest possible dating of the MMA painting to 1522. Although later use of an early-sixteenth-century panel cannot be ruled out, later copies of Holbein paintings are usually made on wood from their own time.

[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The panel is a single board of West German or Netherlandish oak, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible fabrication date of 1522. The paint extends to the edges and is chipped, which suggests that the panel is slightly trimmed. Four strips of oak with mitered corners have been nailed to the perimeter. Two oak crossbars, adhered to the verso at the top and bottom edges, overlap these strips.
The panel was prepared with a thin white ground followed by an even thinner pale pink priming.
Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) revealed three types of underdrawing: broad strokes made with a thick brush and a liquid medium, used for the contours of the puffed red undersleeves; finer, more tentative brush lines, also in a liquid material, used for the contours of the hands and ends of the cuffs; and faint, schematic contours, used for the neck and shoulder, head, chin, lips, and eyes, with some diagonal hatching below the jaw and chin. While the position of the hands remained unchanged during the painting stage, the underdrawn contours were only loosely followed. The contour of the chin was adjusted slightly during painting.
The painting has been abraded and extensively restored. The originally cool, vibrant blue background has been overpainted with a grayish blue-green paint. A rectangular area of restoration above the arm at the far right appears yellowish. There are restored areas in the dark clothing and the face. Retouching of the mouth may contribute to the exaggerated pout.
With magnification, very finely ground opaque and transparent red pigments are visible in the relatively well preserved undersleeves and in the red trim on the cap. The cream-colored passages, such as in the cap and the edging of the neckline, are well preserved, although the dark brown paint describing the pattern of the lace edging is abraded.
A pale, cream-colored mordant was originally used to attach the gilding on the inscription, jewelry, embroidery, and aiglets. The gilded inscription has been damaged and reinforced with paint. The amber-colored glaze on the braided decoration of the cuffs is abraded. The damaged glazes modeling the faces in the brooch have been restored.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Inscribed (across center): ANNO ETATIS·SVÆ XVII
Prince Joseph Poniatowski; Count Kasimir Rzewuski; his daughter, Countess Ludwika Rzewuska Lanckoronska, and her husband, Count Antoni Lanckoronski; their sons, Count Karl Lanckoronski (d. 1863) and/or Count Kasimir Lanckoronski, Vienna; Count Kasimir Lanckoronski, Vienna (by 1866–at least 1872); Count Karol Lanckoronski, Vienna (by 1903–at least 1927; cat., 1903, p. 6); [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, until 1928; sold for $200,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 31; 1943, no. 30)
Dresden. Pavillon des Zwingers. "Holbein-Ausstellung," August 15–October 15, 1871, no. 329 (as "Weibliches Bildniss," by Holbein, lent by Count Lanckoronski).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 30 (as "A Lady of the Court of Henry VIII," by Holbein).

G. F. Waagen. Die vornehmsten Kunstdenkmäler in Wien. part 1, Vienna, 1866, pp. 336–37, as in the collection of Count Kasimir Lanckoronski; not having seen the picture himself, reports the remarks of Alfred Woltmann, who attributes it to Holbein and dates it to his later English period, noting that the face has suffered from overcleaning but that the hands are in excellent condition.

Alfred Woltmann. Holbein and his Time. London, 1872, p. 400, as in the collection of Count Kasimir Lanckoronski, Vienna; discusses it among English female portraits.

Alfred Woltmann. Holbein und seine Zeit. Vol. [1], Des Kunstlers Familie, Leben und Schaffen. 2nd rev. ed. Leipzig, 1874, p. 424, as in the collection of Count Lanckoronski, Vienna; states that it seems to be by Holbein, although the face has suffered.

Alfred Woltmann. Holbein und seine Zeit. Vol. 2, Excurse, Beilagen, Verzeichnisse der Werke von Hans Holbein d. Ä., Ambrosius Holbein, Hans Holbein d. J.. 2nd rev. ed. Leipzig, 1876, p. 154, no. 260, as probably by Holbein.

Palais Lanckoronski. Vienna, 1903, p. 6, lists a small portrait by Holbein the Younger in the "Altdeutsches Cabinet".

Paul Ganz. Hans Holbein d. J.: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1912, p. 245, ill. p. 144, as "Portrait of an English Lady," by Holbein, in the collection of Count Lanckoronski, Vienna; dates it about 1540 and states that it was recognized as genuine at the Dresden exhibition of 1871.

Arthur B. Chamberlain. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1913, vol. 2, pp. 211–12, 349, attributes it to Holbein; calls it similar in style to and of about the same date as the small "Portrait of an Unknown Lady" in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Theodor von Frimmel. Lexikon der Wiener Gemäldesammlungen. Vol. 2, Munich, 1914, pp. 487–88, 494, states that the former attribution to Holbein is now questioned; provides provenance information on the Lanckoronski collection.

Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 4, Paris, 1918, p. 10, no. 3, ill. (engraving), as a portrait of a young English woman by Holbein.

Max J. Friedländer. Letter to Mr. Lowengard [Duveen Bros.]. April 21, 1927, calls it undoubtedly genuine.

Max J. Friedländer. Letter to Mr. Loebl [Duveen Bros.]. January 24, 1927, calls this work, then in the Lanckoronski collection, a genuine Holbein.

Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 4, ill. p. 9, as "A Lady of the English Court," by Holbein.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as "A Lady of the Court of Henry VIII," by Holbein; dates it between 1536 and 1543.

Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 302, as by Holbein, from the time of Jane Seymour [1536–37].

August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542, as by Holbein.

H. E. Wortham. "The Bache Collection." Apollo 11 (May 1930), p. 354, fig. V, as in Holbein's latest manner; mistakenly gives the sitter's age as sixteen.

Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 260, finds it to be the weakest of the four Holbeins in the Bache collection.

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 84, no. 376, as by Holbein; dates it about 1540.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 31, ill.

Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 222, ill., dates it between 1536 and 1543, but also states that the costume indicates that it was painted during the time of Catherine Howard [1540–42].

Regina Shoolman and Charles E. Slatkin. The Enjoyment of Art in America. Philadelphia, 1942, p. 508, pl. 466.

Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 288.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 30, ill.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 220–21, ill., date it about 1540 based on the costume; call the Vienna portrait the closest parallel.

Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), p. 140.

Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, p. 253, no. 110, pl. 149, attributes it to Holbein and dates it 1540–43; suggests that both the locket and the gold setting for the cameo were designed by Holbein.

Roy Strong. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. June 16, 1965, tentatively suggests that it is French and "fits rather nicely into the Clouet ambience".

Hans Werner Grohn in L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, p. 107, no. 126, ill., as generally attributed to Holbein; dates it about 1540.

John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, p. 238, no. R. 45, pl. 252, rejects the attribution to Holbein, calling it a pastiche adapted from the Vienna portrait; states that the pendant seems to be adapted from a design by Holbein in the British Museum, London.

Maryan Ainsworth. "'Paternes for phiosioneamyes': Holbein's Portraiture Reconsidered." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), p. 185, includes it among pictures attributed to "the putative workshop of Holbein, dating from the 1530s and 1540s," stating that these works "all show mechanical-looking underdrawings in the contours of the face, and more lively, free-hand brushstrokes for the underdrawing elsewhere, particularly in the hands" and that "in accordance with Holbein's method, there is no interior modelling in the faces".

Susan E. James and Jamie S. Franco. "Susanna Horenbout, Levina Teerlinc and the Mask of Royalty." Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (2000), p. 124, fig. 22, attribute it to Holbein or his workshop and date it about 1540–45; state that it seems to depict the same sitter as a miniature at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (fig. 10; Attributed to Lavinia Teerlinc, about 1545–47), whom they identify as Catherine Howard.

Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 448.

Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. July 14, 2006, identifies the wood from which the panel is made as oak from the western Germany/Netherlandish region; writes that dendrochronological analysis reveals that the earliest felling date for the tree from which this panel is made is 1520, adding that a minimum of two years for seasoning means that the earliest possible execution date for the painting is 1522.

Maryan W. Ainsworth in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 155–57, 306–7, no. 37, ill. (color) and figs. 130–31 (infrared reflectogram details).