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216 × 138 × 24 mm
280 pages
71 illustrations, 51 in colour
14 Sep 2020
Renaissance Lives

Hans Holbein The Artist in a Changing World Jeanne Nuechterlein

Immensely skillful and inventive, Hans Holbein moulded his approach to art-making during a period of dramatic transformation in European society and culture: the emergence of humanism, the impact of the Reformation on religious life and the effects of new scientific discoveries. Most people have encountered Holbein’s work – Henry VIII was forever defined for posterity by his memorable portrait – but little is widely known about the artist himself.

This overview of Holbein looks at his art through the changes in the world around him. Offering insightful and often surprising new interpretations of visual and historical sources that have rarely been addressed, Jeanne Nuechterlein reconstructs what we know of the life of this elusive figure, illuminating the complexity of his world and the images he generated.

Hans Holbein: The Artist in a Changing World is not a biography. Instead, Nuechterlein offers a compelling thematic account of Holbein’s creative life that emphasises the steadiness of his artistic gaze as he navigated three decades of extraordinary political, religious and intellectual turbulence.’ — History Today

‘This is a very fine book about a puzzling artist. Page by page, sentence by sentence, Jeanne Nuechterlein brings the reader in and up close to the art. The author’s care and clarity in addressing the making of art is a match for Holbein’s art and skill. One learns a lot. It is a rare pleasure to find oneself right there as the artist makes an image. The compact trim size and design of the book are enabling.’ — The Key Reporter

‘Hans Holbein (c. 1497/98–1543) has generated plenty of scholarship in the form of catalogues of paintings, drawings and prints as well as serious exhibition catalogues and scholarly monographs. But he has never received an affordable, authoritative, yet brief introduction that stands on those firm foundations, often partial, costly, and/or out of print. Now, in its commendable “Renaissance Lives” series, Reaktion Books has published a splendid new survey by a truly authoritative Holbein expert, Jeanne Nuechterlein . . . Despite this volume’s brevity, it contains much new knowledge – especially about Holbein’s own scientific knowledge.’ — Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews

‘Jeanne Nuechterlein presents the first modern overview of Holbein’s entire achievement and examines his responses to major changes in contemporary belief systems – Renaissance humanism, the Protestant Reformation and new scientific and geographical discoveries – all explained with admirable clarity. Analysing Holbein’s work across Germany, Switzerland and England, from tiny woodcuts and metalcuts to full-size altarpieces, she brilliantly brings into focus not only Holbein’s extraordinary creative responses to change but also the people for whom and with whom he worked, illuminating Northern European art and society at a crucial turning point.’ — Dr Susan Foister, Deputy Director and Curator at the National Gallery, London

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Jeanne Nuechterlein is Reader in the Department of History of Art at the University of York. She is the author of Translating Nature into Art: Holbein, the Reformation, and Renaissance Rhetoric (2011) and Deputy Editor of the journal Art History.


1 Techniques, Materials, Skills
2 Education, Knowledge, Styles
3 Religion, Reformation, Politics
4 Science, Observation, Manipulation
5 Patrons, Status, Court

Conclusion: The Individual and the Type

Selected Reading
Photo Acknowledgements