Hans Holbein, the Younger, "Sir Thomas More"

August 2, 2010

Hans Holbein came to London from Switzerland in 1526, only a year before he dated this portrait. With a letter of introduction from the philosopher Erasmus, Holbein entered the rarefied circle of Sir Thomas More (1477/78-1535) and was soon living near him in Chelsea. More, in a letter back to Erasmus, spoke of Holbein as "a wonderful artist." Famed as a humanist scholar and author of the Utopia, More was a powerful statesman as well. By this time, he had already served Henry VIII as privy councillor for over a decade and became his lord chancellor in 1529. But More subsequently refused to subscribe to the Act of Supremacy, making the king head of the Church of England, and for this he was convicted of high treason and beheaded on July 6, 1535. A drawing by Holbein at Windsor Castle was the model for this painting, but the artist made numerous changes from it. As an evocation of one man's mind and character, this portrait has few equals. The gold S-S chain was an emblem of service to the king. The letters stand for the motto Souvent me souvien, or, Think of me often.


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