Painter, draughtsman, commercial artist, miniaturist, design draughtsman and portrait painter
Together with his brother Ambrosius, Holbein received his artistic training in the workshop of his father, Hans Holbein the Elder, in Augsburg. Towards the end of 1515, both brothers are documented in Basel, presumably having gone there because of its flowering printing industry. Holbein quickly found entry into the city's humanist circles, which included Bonifacius Amerbach and Erasmus of Rotterdam. One of his first commissioned works was the double portrait, from 1516, of Basel's mayor Jakob Meyer and his wife Dorothea Kannegiesser. In 1519 he was accepted into Basel's painters' guild. In addition to producing altarpieces and wall and facade paintings, he executed designs for applied arts and woodcuts. In 1521 he was given the city's foremost commission, the painting of Basel's council chamber. In 1524 he travelled to France, and apparently sought employment from King François I as painter to the court, but without success. In France he became familiar with the technique of drawing with coloured chalk. Before setting out for London in 1526, he painted in Basel the 'Madonna of Mayor Jakob Mayer' (the so-called 'Darmstadt Madonna'). Upon recommendation from Erasmus, he there was a guest in the home of Thomas More, and began painting portraits of English nobility. In 1528 he returned to a Basel shaken by the Reformation. Until mid-1531 he was engaged in painting the south wall of the city's council chamber. A year later, he again travelled to London, where he produced portraits of German Hansa merchants and subsequently members of the English court and diplomats. In 1533 he painted the double portrait of 'The Ambassadors' (London, National Gallery). By 1536 at the latest, he had been appointed court painter to King Henry VIII, and in 1537 he produced the wall painting in the royal Privy Chamber in Whitehall. In 1538/39 he repeatedly travelled to the Continent in the retinue of the king's marriage broker, and portrayed Christina of Denmark and Anne of Cleve as possible brides. Hans Holbein the Younger died in London in 1543, probably of the plague.
He led to unprecedented perfection the genre of the portrait enriched with expressive accessories that communicate as much as possible about the subject in hidden details. In his portraits and altarpieces, he proved to be a master of synthesis, equally sensitive to Netherlandish, Italian and French impulses and combining them into a unique art form of truly European distinction. He is rightly named alongside Albrecht Dürer as one of the most outstanding artists of the German Renaissance.