Who are you, really?
Hans Holbein the Younger was a court painter for King Henry VIII in 16th Century England. As any good portrait painter would do, he went to great lengths to add clues about the subjects life and interests through objects and settings. He also had a flexible working process which helped him build rapport with his sitters.
The portrait "A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling" is most likely Anne Lovell who is depicted against a blue background with a starling near her shoulder. Her pet red squirrel, which wears a thin silver chain and nibbles on a hazelnut, was added late in the process as a link to the three squirrels on the Lovell family crest. The starling may be a visual pun on the name of the family’s East Harling estate. Looking back 400 years makes it hard to be sure of the painter’s intent.
Holbein depicted Thomas Cromwell, a lawyer and probably the most powerful statesman in King Henry III’s court, who handled the king’s first divorce and the downfall of Anne Boleyn, which led to the king’s later ill-fated marriage to Anne of Cleves—the latter of which led to Cromwell’s beheading. His portrait—painted seven years before his demise—was more genteel. The portrait scrupulously renders the details such as fur, jewels, wood and leather. Inscriptions are included to further elevate the subjects stature.
Holbein was at the dawning of portraiture as an art and set many of the conventions which are followed by portrait painters working today.
To see and learn more visit "Holbein: Capturing Character in the Renaissance" at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center or online . The show runs October 19, 2021 to May 15, 2022.