Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)
Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (1535–51)
Watercolour and bodycolour on vellum laid on playing card
Diameter 5.6 cm
Sir Henry Fanshawe; by whom presented to Charles I, before 1616; Charles II
The present miniature of Henry Brandon, second Duke of Suffolk (1535-51), and its companion piece of Charles Brandon, third Duke of Suffolk, are the only surviving identifiable representations of children within Holbein’s portraiture, with the exception of portraits of Edward VI and the artist’s own children. Their inclusion within the group of approximately 20 high-ranking or well-connected persons who sat for portrait miniatures by Holbein (1497/8-1543) can be explained by the quasi-royal status enjoyed by the boys’ father, Charles Brandon, first Duke of Suffolk. His marriage in 1515 to Princess Mary, younger sister of Henry VIII, gave him an elevated position at court which endured even after Princess Mary’s death in 1553. Henry and Charles Brandon, Suffolk’s two sons by his fourth wife, Katherine Willoughby, were jointly educated at an early age with the young Edward VI. They were renowned scholars and studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, but died of the sweating sickness within half an hour of each other in 1551, Henry aged 16 and Charles aged 14 or 15.
Both miniatures are late products of Holbein’s second extended stay in England, from 1532 to 1543. The miniature of Charles Brandon is dated 1541, and it is likely that both were painted at about the same date, although they do not form a pair in compositional terms. The inscription in the present miniature is hard to correlate with the sitter’s supposed date of birth on either 16 or 18 September 1535, and it may be an inaccurate attempt by Holbein to record the sitter’s birth date, with his age during the year 1540-41. All of Holbein’s surviving miniatures date from his second English visit, and he is stated by Karel van Mander to have been taught the art of miniature painting by Lucas Horenbout. Horenbout’s miniatures were never fully freed from the influence of the Netherlandish illuminators’ workshop in which he had been trained, but his contemporary Holbein transformed the developing art form to such an extent that his reputation soon ‘far excelled Lucas’. So significant were the advances made by Holbein that it is possible to argue that he was bringing to the portrait miniature other northern influences of which he may have been aware; and his work in this format is in some respects closer to that of Jean Clouet, whom he may have met in Tours as early as c.1524, if, as is thought, Holbein visited the French court at this period to gain the patronage of Francis I. Where Horenbout almost invariably used the head and shoulders or short, bust-length format, and made little attempt to define the space in which his sitters were placed, Holbein preferred a less constricted format showing the sitters’ hands. This enabled him to establish the relationship between his sitters and the space around them with the utmost clarity. The placing of Henry Brandon’s left arm on the ledge in front of him is a pose that relates directly to that in Holbein’s portrait of Derich Born of 1533. Ultimately derived from Titian, it can be seen in portraits of other members of the Guild of Hanseatic Merchants from the German Steelyard whom Holbein painted in London, such as that of Hermann von Wedigh (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1532), and also in Holbein’s near-contemporary portrait of Edward VI. A brush drawing in black ink with grey wash by Holbein, Woman seated on a settle with four children (British Museum), includes the figure of a child adopting exactly the same pose as Henry Brandon, with his arm resting on the end of the settle, but no direct link has been established between the figure in the drawing and the miniature.
Inscribed in the artist's hand: ETATIS.SVAE. 5. 6. SEPDEM. / ANNO / 1535
Catalogue entry adapted from The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein, London 2011