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The King's Painter

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Books Read and Recommended from my European Vacation pt. 1

We flew to London a few days after they opened to Americans on July 19. The pub owners were never so happy to see us, less sarcastic, accommodating even.

Those from my class know my love of the Booker Prize, and as happenstance would have it, we not only found ourselves in London during the announcement of the longlist but also one block from The London Review of Books Bookstore and Café, a favorite. Sure enough, they had the 13 selections tabled. Barb bought Canadian writer Mary Lawson’s “A Town Called Solace,” devoured it in a gulp, while I, already juggling five books, kept it in the circular wheel of my affection and have still not finished (maybe tonight). Told initially by the voyeuristic 7-year old neighbor, the teenage girl next door is missing. It’s a literary mystery, well written. I took a picture of it from the 4th-story windowsill-waiting room when we went to get our mandatory Covid test. 

I ended up buying David Diop’s “At Night All Blood is Black,” which won the International Booker Prize. I needed a thin book for my suitcase travels.  This book would make a great companion piece to “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Two Nigerian best friends are fighting in the trenches for France during WWI. It starts promisingly poetic, gets a bit repetitive, and then becomes devastatingly good. 

But the trip’s raison d’être was to visit The National Gallery to see Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors,” a monumental, puzzle-box masterpiece, that dominates not only the room, but all the other classics in the museum (although Caravaggio’s “Boy bitten by a Lizard” and van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait” are fantastic.) Hardly anyone was there.

I had been reading Franny Moyle’s fascinating “The King’s Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein” on my phone (thanks #netgalley) and couldn’t wait to see some of his paintings in person. The German Holbein, because of his friendship to Erasmus and Thomas More, became the portrait artist for Henry VIII’s Tudor court. Moyle asserts that he was the third most famous painter in Europe after da Vinci and Dürer, and that his paintings helped Henry negotiate geo-political truces.

Moyle puts academic language in layman’s terms and places him in an engaging historical context. There’s much speculation—surely he knew Anne Boleyn etc.—because like Shakespeare we know him mostly for his works. The whole book is fascinating, but chapter 12 on the 1533 painting “The Ambassadors” is worth it on its own. The painting can be read on at least 4 levels: the technical, artistic one, the symbolic, the political, and the reformation/religious one. She says, “This was more than a portrait per se, it was a discussion point, a debate or a game …” Three pages on the globe and the broken lute string are memorable. Then there’s that bizarre floating oval —a memento mori— object on the floor only deciphered as an anamorphic skull if you take an extreme sideview look. 

I say get this book and go to Europe to track down all of Holbein’s paintings.
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The King's Painter is a well written biography of Hans Holbein presented by Franny Moyle. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Abrams, it's 400 pages and will be available in hardcover format. 

This is a layman accessible, precise, and exhaustively annotated biography of Hans Holbein the Younger shown through the lens of his patronage by the important and influential families of the Tudor period, most specifically his interaction and service to King Henry VIII. 

The author does a good job of explaining some of the more esoteric political machinations and background. Holbein was a supremely gifted artist, but he was also a politically astute and intelligent man who often had the regard of the king and managed (for the most part) to avoid being embroiled unnecessarily in the deadly political machinations at court.

The book is not strictly chronological; the author has arranged it in a series of thematic chapters each of which explore Holbein's relationships to other great persons of the time period.The narrative is enhanced by excerpts from extant period letters and journals. It is exhaustively annotated and the chapter notes and bibliography will give readers opportunity for many more hours of learning and research. I cannot state with certainty what this biography provides which is lacking from other biographies of Holbein, but I can say I found it accessible and enjoyable to read. The author doesn't make the reading onerous with overly academic constructions, and I appreciated that.

There are no illustrations included in the early ARC provided for pre-release review. 

Five stars. This would make a superlative selection for public or school library acquisition, or for the home library, especially for fans of art, or history, or both. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein written by Franny Moyle is a long-awaited full biography of the great German Artisan. Moyle presents her research and analysis into his life, times and work. Moyle posits that Holbein was arguably the greatest renaissance Master painter in Northern Europe with a wide repertoire during the 1530’s until his death. Holbein was exalted by his peers as comparable to the German artist Albright Dürer and indeed there are some similarities in their style of painting. Nicholas Bourbon compared him to Apelles of Kos. Others have described him as a multifaceted genius, humanist, political propagandist and a satirist. A man who’s deft work consisted of loosely concealed symbolism and allusion, hidden in plain sight. Moyle’s focuses upon the period of Holbein’s life from the 1520s until his death and the administration of his will. 

The King’s Painter begins with the unique and close relationships that Hans Holbein enjoyed with King Henry Vlll of England. Holbein is at the height of his power, and his talent was known around Northern Europe. He was arguably the most notable painter in Europe during the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England.  

Moyle’s research puts flesh on the bones of Hans Holbein the Younger. He was the son of Hans Holbein the Elder, also a painter famed for creating The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Holbein the Younger earned his accolades through his skill, commitment and hard work. He aligned himself with wealthy patrons, principal amongst them: Erasmus of Rotterdam, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, and King Henry Vlll of England.

The book begins in the 1530s; Holbein was an exalted artist enjoying the fruits of his labors. He had a wealthy clientele, fame and riches; all forged on his talent of creating realistic likenesses for his patrons. Such was his success that he was one of the few who could engage with King Henry Vlll in private, a very rare honor indeed. 

The gravitas of Holbein’s fame as Northern Europe’s most heralded painter comes into stark contrast when one considers his contemporaries. His peers during the period were: Leonardo da Vinci who was working in France at the time; Michelangelo who was painting the Sistine Chapel for Pope Paul lll; and the Venetian artist Titian da Cadore, also know as Tiziano Vecelli,, who was creating work for King Charles V The Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria.

Hans Holbein the Younger worked during some of the most tumultuous times in history. Times that were resplendent with great artists. His work was held in the highest esteem due to the verisimilitude of his portraits. He was respected and valued by the political elite, religious, and other connoisseurs.

It is difficult for us to imagine today just how popular Holbein’s art was during the late 16th Century’s European Renaissance period. When he released a new work, there was a frisson of excitement so powerful it was palpable. Holbein’s projects were considered to be a luxury. At a time before modern photographic processes, his paintings were seen as a way of passing down your visage to history and your decedents. At no time since Apelles had an artist been so able to depict his subjects with unfettered verismo.

By the end of Holbein’s life, he had accrued wealth and notoriety. Moyles posited that his sad demise was due to the plague. However, the absence of an identifiable resting place or his remains leave us with an enduring mystery.

Visti: on for the conclusion.
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I want to thank Netgalley and the author for gifting me the ebook. This was very informative! I love anything that has to do with this historical period. I have always been fascinated with paintings during this time. Very informative! Highly recommend!
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I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for this e-ARC. All opinions are my own.

While I love history and reading about it, but when it feels cumbersome to read, I lose a bit of interest. This doesn’t seem like the type of writing that would be accessible to everyone, so that is why I would not recommend it. History should be fun to read about and this did not achieve that,
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Over 500 years after Hans Holbein painted Henry VIII and several members of his court as well as poets and others who walked to halls of Tudor palaces, visitors to various museums where his work is on display are still attracted to his artistic masterpieces and the truth embodied therein.

The paintings unveil the story behind the art’s making and the socio-economic times in which they were created. Holbein’s is a life rife with all the drama of a modern day soap.  

In THE KING’S PAINTER author Franny Moyle offers a complex historical background of Holbein, the man, and the magnificent truth that is contained in his works.
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This is a brilliant and long overdue biography of Hans Holbein. The author creates a wonderful atmosphere and really brings his world to life. Absolutely excellent!
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This book can be hard to read, its not necessarily set up like a story itself, more like a history book. Informative, but can be a bit dull at times and had to push myself to finish it.
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The reader does get a bit about his life but is more on his career and about the people he had some interaction with or connection to. It is overall a good book if looking to what was going on in his life and around it.
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What a marvellous book!!
A long overdue biography of one of the most celebrated portraitists of the Renaissance and the undeniable influence of his artistic achievements & contributions to the enhancement of monarchical powers, politics and prerogatives through their pictorial representations. Following Holbein's journey from his humble beginnings in Germany to the greatness of the Tudors' court in London, it's also following and understanding the canny appropriation often combined with skillfull picture making of art in politics so prevalent throughout Western Europe during the first part of the 16th century. This magnificent book is also a powerful and colorful tapestry of the Tudor political world under  Henry VIII & a fascinating study about art & politics, court politics, art & court patronage and the Machiavellian policy of mastering the various and intricate representations of power at the dawn of royal absolutism in Europe. Probably one of the best biographies of 2021 and a brilliant study of an important era in European art history to be enjoyed without any moderation!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Abrams for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful biography prior to its release date
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The King's Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein by Franny Moyle is an excellent biography of the larger then life and famous historical painter that is well-researched, engaging, fascinating, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The author clearly has done the research, and the sources presented depicts this throughout and at the end. This is nonfiction, however the author was able to present the book in a way that at times I lost myself in the narrative and forgot I was reading a history/biography. I have read so many books about English royalty and have seen this famous painter's name time and time again, so it was refreshing to be able to read a book devoted to this famous and talented individual and his impressive works. There are so many of his paintings that are infamous, and quite stunning. (I personally like the Portrait of Jane Seymour myself. ) 

I learned so much more about English history in general as well as learning about this esteemed artist by reading this book. I highly recommend this book for anyone that enjoys not only art history, but also Tudor history as well. The 1500s never looked so good...
5/5 stars

Thank you NG and ABRAMS for this arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication.
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