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“Portrait of Thomas Cromwell” by Hans Holbein the Younger

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“Portrait of Thomas Cromwell” by Hans Holbein the Younger depicts Cromwell when he was around 48 years old. It is one of two portraits Holbein painted of him. The original panel is lost; however, three versions of this painting survive, this one, in the Frick Collection, New York. The others are in the National Portrait Gallery, London and one at Burton Constable, Yorkshire, England.

Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540) was a lawyer and statesman who became a confidant of Henry VIII, assuming the roles of vice-regent, Lord Chancellor, lord high chamberlain, amongst others. A shrewd politician, he was aware of the effect of propaganda and commissioned Holbein to produce images positioning him as a reformist and royalist.

Cromwell engineered the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and became a significant force in the Tudor court until he fell from power because he had arranged the king’s marriage to the German princess, Anne of Cleves. Henry found his new bride unattractive, and it turned into a disaster for Cromwell. The marriage was unpopular, and this allowed his many enemies the chance to bring charges of treason, forcing his eventual arrest and executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill in 1540.

This turn of events left Holbein in an uncertain position. Holbein had deftly survived the downfall of his first two high patrons, Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, but Cromwell’s execution damaged his career. Although he managed to retain his position as King’s painter, his career never recovered. The site of Holbein’s grave is unknown and may never have been marked.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
  • Artist:              Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Created:          1533
  • Medium:         oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions:   78.4 × 64.5 cm (30.9 × 25.4 in)
  • Museum:         Frick Collection, New York

Artist:

  • Name:            Hans Holbein the Younger
  • German:        Hans Holbein der Jüngere
  • Born:              c. 1497 – Augsburg, Free imperial city, Holy Roman Empire
  • Died:              1543 (aged 45) – London, England
  • Nationality:  German Swiss
  • Movement:   Northern Renaissance
  • Notable work:
    • Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
    • Sir Thomas More

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit 1) Hans Holbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons