Holbein's Scripture Cuts.

Printed: 1830

Publisher: William Pickering. London

Dimensions 13 × 20 × 3.5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 13 x 20 x 3.5

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Item information


Tan and brown full calf binding. Red title plate with gilt lettering, banding and emblems on the spine.

It is the intent of F.B.A. to provide an in-depth photographic presentation of this book offered so to almost stimulate your feel and touch on the book. If requested, more traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

A First Edition Volume of Holbein Prints

This volume is the most beautiful Pickering book we have ever offered for sale. Taken from designs in Jean Frellon’s 1547 Lyon edition, the woodcuts here are engraved for Charles Whittingham by John and Mary Byfield and accompanied by text in English, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Keynes considers it to be “of special merit” among Pickering’s productions. First printed in 1538, Holbein’s renowned series of Scripture cuts is composed of lively, fluid scenes executed with great skill, the mood fluctuating from drama to pathos. The interaction between the figures is often almost palpable. Praised by Worringer for establishing “a synthesis between sophisticated mastery and primitive creativity, which gives his illustrations the character of classical models,” Hans Holbein the younger (1497-1543) was born into a family of artists and rose to fame for his portrait paintings and for his woodcut book illustrations. Dibdin says that the artists who recreated these cuts came from “an ingenious and worthy family” of engravers. Mary Byfield (1795-1871) and her brother John (1788-1841) learned the art from their father, and collaborated on a number of works, including this and the Holbein “Dance of Death” published by Pickering. After gaining recognition for illustrating works by Dibdin, Mary worked for Charles Whittingham’s Chiswick Press for more than 40 years, illustrating many Pickering editions, and designing printers’ devices, decorative initials.

Hans Holbein the Younger ( c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was a German painter and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style, and is considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire, and Reformation propaganda, and he made a significant contribution to the history of book design. He is called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his father Hans Holbein the Elder, an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic school.

Holbein was born in Augsburg, but he worked mainly in Basel as a young artist. At first, he painted murals and religious works, designed stained glass windows, and printed books. He also painted an occasional portrait, making his international mark with portraits of humanist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. When the Reformation reached Basel, Holbein worked for reformist clients while continuing to serve traditional religious patrons. His Late Gothic style was enriched by artistic trends in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, as well as by Renaissance humanism. The result was a combined aesthetic uniquely his own.

Holbein travelled to England in 1526 in search of work, with a recommendation from Erasmus. He was welcomed into the humanist circle of Thomas More, where he quickly built a high reputation. He returned to Basel for four years, then resumed his career in England in 1532 under the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. By 1535, he was King’s Painter to Henry VIII of England. In this role, he produced portraits and festive decorations, as well as designs for jewellery, plate, and other precious objects. His portraits of the royal family and nobles are a record of the court in the years when Henry was asserting his supremacy over the Church of England.

Holbein’s art was prized from early in his career. French poet and reformer Nicholas Bourbon (the elder) dubbed him “the Apelles of our time,” a typical accolade at the time. Holbein has also been described as a great “one-off” of art history, since he founded no school. Some of his work was lost after his death, but much was collected, and he was recognised among the great portrait masters by the 19th century. Recent exhibitions have also highlighted his versatility. He created designs ranging from intricate jewellery to monumental frescoes.

Holbein’s art has sometimes been called realist, since he drew and painted with a rare precision. His portraits were renowned in their time for their likeness, and it is through his eyes that many famous figures of his day are pictured today, such as Erasmus and More. He was never content with outward appearance, however; he embedded layers of symbolism, allusion, and paradox in his art, to the lasting fascination of scholars. In the view of art historian Ellis Waterhouse, his portraiture “remains unsurpassed for sureness and economy of statement, penetration into character, and a combined richness and purity of style”.

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