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  • The portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Younger: function and use explored through materials and techniques

Button, Victoria, 2013, Thesis, The portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Younger: function and use explored through materials and techniques PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

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.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2013 16:30
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2013 16:30
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1357

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