Most of us willpower-challenged individuals shrink from any graphic representations of our bodily magnitude, or turn blue holding our guts in while the photographer tries desperately to focus his camera. Elbowing your way to the back row of a group photo works too. But if you're king, no one stands in front of you and it might be difficult to exert enough abdominal control to pose for an oil portrait. Of course if the artist owes his job to your royal patronage, perhaps he could be bribed a few pounds to take off a few pounds. However, such was apparently not the case with Holbein. Instead, he used the vain young king's magnificent obesity and over six-foot frame as a showcase for his incredible dexterity in handling a wide range of jeweled embroidery, velvets, furs, brocades, and other, miscellaneous sartorial detail, doing so with such delicate realism that we're hardly aware of the massive girth of the model.
|Henry VIII, 1540, Hans Holbein|
However Holbein's skill with a brush didn't start or end with regal vestments. He was first and foremost a great portrait painter in the finest English/German sense of the word. Born around 1500, he was originally a member of the humanist circle of Sir Thomas More. He was appointed court painter in 1536. In 1540, he painted Henry VIII at age 39, probably the best known and most striking of his several royal renditions. Given the king's proportions, the painting is almost as broad as it is tall, but the direct, eye-contact of the stylishly bearded monarch is so commanding our gaze is riveted by his countenance rather than his enormous physique or even it's elegant attire. Holbein was undoubtedly rewarded quite well for his mastery of this painting skill, but he was not the highest paid painter in the employment of the King. That honor belonged to a Flemish woman named Levina Bening Teerling, officially known as the King's Paintrix.