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Title: The portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Younger : function and use explored through materials and techniques
Author: Button, Victoria
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 6123
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines the materials and techniques of sixteenth century artist Hans Holbein the Younger, with particular reference to his portrait drawings. The research reinstates the drawings as the primary source-material for investigation, thereby demonstrating the link between the materials and techniques chosen by Holbein, and the function or end-use of the drawings. Although around one hundred Holbein portrait drawings survive, the focus of this research is the eighteen that relate to currently attributed oil and miniature paintings. By focusing the research in this manner, it is possible to establish how Holbein constructed and used the drawings in the preparation of the finished oil painting. Furthermore, it explains how his choice and use of materials and techniques can help to establish the original context and function of the drawings. An important outcome of this research is a detailed description of the eighteen drawings that relate to a painted portrait. Having developed an effective method of examining and describing Holbein’s drawings, this research provides a thorough analysis of the materials and techniques used by him. This not only increases our understanding of his drawing processes, but also broadens the limitations of traditional connoisseurship by offering a more accessible tool, allowing objective visual analysis of an artist’s technique. This method of investigation can be applied to drawings in a wider context of sixteenth century artistic production. Moreover, it can also be used as a potential model for how to effectively ‘read’ a drawing in order to better understand its function and method of production. The results inform art historical and conservation research. A comprehensive, systematic visual examination of the drawings has helped to reveal new information on Holbein’s methods and materials, and offers insights into 16th century workshop practice. In many cases examination has clarified the sequence in which the media was laid down. Holbein’s emphasis on the contours that define sitters’ features has been much disputed, and their role, media, and application methods were unclear. What has previously been described as metalpoint marks were discovered by the author to be indentations, which have become filled with loose media, thereby giving the appearance of a drawn line. The indentations actually show evidence of tracing of the salient lines that capture likeness for transfer. The research has also revealed that red chalk was the preliminary media for defining features, and that Holbein developed standardised techniques for rendering flesh tones, making the drawing process more efficient. It is apparent that Holbein chose techniques to fulfill a particular role, and that there are clear links between these techniques and their location on a drawing.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified