Hans Holbein in the Royal Collection

Holbein's drawings in the Royal Collection are preparatory studies for painted portraits and miniatures, and around thirty of them can be linked with surviving works. In three cases - Sir Henry Guildford, William Reskimer and Elizabeth, Lady Audley - both the preparatory drawing and the finished works are in the Royal Collection. Many of the sitters in the drawings are identified through eighteenth-century inscriptions based on identifications thought to have been made by Sir John Cheke, tutor to Edward VI, who would have known many of the sitters.

The history of Holbein's eighty-five portrait drawings in the Royal Collection is eventful. At the death of Holbein, the drawings probably passed from his studio to Henry VIII, and on his death to Edward VI. At this stage, the drawings were pasted into an album, which then left the Royal Collection. The album was reacquired by Henry, Prince of Wales, before passing to his brother Charles I. Although Charles had an interest in paintings, he had little enthusiasm for drawings and exchanged the Holbein album for a single panel painting by Raphael. Charles II is known to have reacquired the drawings, but the album was then forgotten until Queen Caroline found it in a drawer of a bureau at Kensington Palace. At her request the drawings were framed and hung in her closet. During the reign of George III the drawings were returned to an album and housed in the Royal Library. During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries the drawings were removed from the albums and placed in mounts kept in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Today, a selection of drawings and paintings by Holbein are on display on the public route at Windsor Castle.