Hans Holbein, the Younger 's Sir Thomas More, painted in 1527 is one of the most remarkable portraits of the sixteenth century, by the preeminent artist of the dramatic days of the English court. In high demand across Europe following his immense successes in England between 1526-8 and 1532-43, almost all of Holbein's completed canvases were the subject of intricate and well-wrought reproductions. The 1527 Sir Thomas More is without doubt the original and demonstrates the matchless skill of this great technical master. Having only arrived in London the year before, Holbein became close friends with More through a letter of introduction from the philosopher Erasmus. More was then a well-known man of letters and embryonic humanist, writing the powerful tract Utopia, where from which many of our recent interpretations of 'man's perfect state' derive. During the time of painting, More was the privy councillor to King Henry VIII, and two years later the statesman would become his lord chancellor in 1529.
Depicting the man with a forceful presence and intellectual intensity, Holbein's figurative reproduction of the likeness of Sir Thomas More is a studied enactment of authority and political stature. With an entirely idiosyncratic and hypnotic use of bold, regal colours, the artist's delicate and subtle treatment of posture and skin tones are juxtaposed by the sumptuousness of More's regalia. Such an enthralling attention to the textures and tactility of the subject's garments caught the attention of potential commissioners in an age of refined dress and brutal reforms. Unfortunately for More and for England his time as Lord Chancellor lasted only three years, resigning in protest at
Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Always true to his faith above all else, after refusing to support the King's secession from the Catholic church and creation of the Church of England, More was beheaded for treason.
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