One of the great strengths of Moyle’s book is that it allows you to view Holbein’s enormous versatility. He was in demand for his large-scale decorative work, book illustration (the marvellous ‘Dance of Death’, buzzing with movement), and metalwork, weaponry and jewellery design. In his portraiture, he constantly employs tricks of artifice and illusion, particularly in his manipulation of space where he challenges our perceptions of what is real and what is painted surface. Time and again, though, one returns, awe-struck, to the overwhelming sophistication of Holbein’s gift for verisimilitude.
The book is on the long side and it wouldn’t have hurt to hustle through the career of Holbein the Elder and Holbein the Younger’s journeyman years. Augsburg and Basel don’t half drag. There is also the odd infelicity of phrase. We learn that the old Duke of Cleves “succumbed to mortality”. I assume that means that he died? Only quibbles. Overall, this sumptuous book is a jewel in its own right.