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Images of Erasmus 2008
Images of Erasmus 2008

Has the museum discovered a Holbein?

Researchers agree that the discovery is of an exceptionally high quality and that it was made during Erasmusí lifetime. The painting clearly stems from the hand of a great master. Experts think that the portrait originates from the circle of Hans Holbein the Younger or that it may have been painted by Holbein himself.

Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, c. 1530, panel 35,4x26,5 cm. Zurich, private collection
Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, c. 1530, panel 35,4x26,5 cm. Zurich, private collection

A five century-old portrait of Erasmus was recently sold at an auction in Paris. This is the first original portrait of the humanist scholar to be discovered in the last 150 years. Researchers agree that the painting is of an exceptionally high quality and that it was made during Erasmus’ lifetime. The work clearly stems from the hand of a great master. Experts think that it originates from the circle of Hans Holbein the Younger or that it may have been painted by Holbein himself.
The collector who has purchased the portrait is lending it to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The museum will be presenting the discovery to the public for the first time together with fourteen other portraits in the exhibition Images of Erasmus.

Exceptional quality
It is extremely rare for an early sixteenth-century painting of such high quality to be offered at auction. The exceptional level of the painting and underdrawing, in particular the skilled and detailed painting of the hands and fur, suggest that it was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. Infrared photography shows especially powerful underdrawing in the hands. X-ray photographs have given us an insight into the artistic process: originally the painter had intended to depict a different kind of beret. The museum is engaged in ongoing research with experts and hopes to be able to provide evidence to support or refute the attribution to Holbein.
During the exhibition Images of Erasmus the work will be confronted for the first time with three other portraits of Erasmus attributed to Holbein. This will provide a unique opportunity to come to a definitive conclusion about the attribution. The exhibition will contain a separate study presentation devoted to the research on the portrait.

New painting tradition
Erasmus was the first citizen to allow himself to be extensively portrayed by the greatest artists of his time. He used these portraits as tokens of appreciation for his patrons and for self-promotion. He presented the portraits as gifts to his friends and to monarchs and patrons together with letters. This made Erasmus a well-known figure and portraits of the scholar were a favourite subject among painters. This led to new portraits being commissioned by many admirers in Europe, resulting in numerous copies and imitations.

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