Measuring up

Nicholas Penny

  • Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait Painting in the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries by Lorne Campbell
    Yale, 290 pp, £35.00, May 1990, ISBN 0 300 04675 8

Opposite the first page of Lorne Campbell’s Renaissance Portraits is a large colour plate of a pair of young female hands emerging from crisp and translucent white cuffs with black borders. The hands, which clasp soft buff kid gloves against a black satin gown, belong to Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan – or rather to the arresting full-length portrait of her by Holbein reproduced nearby. We learn from one of the unusually informative captions that King Henry VIII was taken with the idea of making Christina, a teenage widow, his fourth wife. He dispatched Holbein, his court painter, to Brussels to record her likeness. She sat to Holbein between 1 and 4 p.m. on 12 March 1538. The artist left Brussels that night and within a few days the King was able to study her picture. It put him into a ‘much better humour’. Musicians were ordered to ‘play on their instruments all day long’. Luckily for Christina, the scheme came to nothing; Holbein, however, was able to use he drawings he had made in Brussels to paint he great full-length portrait.

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