Lot 8
  • 8

Hans Holbein the Elder

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Hans Holbein the Elder
  • The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne
  • signed with the monogram HH (in ligature) on the throne at the right
  • oil on panel
  • 17 1/4  by 13 5/8  in.; 43.7 by 34.6 cm.


With Julius Böhler, Munich acquired in 1901 (stock number 18.539);
Prof. Dr. Philipp Lotmar (1850-1922), Bern, acquired from above by 1902;
Sale, Zurich, Galerie Fischer, 17-19 May 1933, lot 1257 (consigned by Lotmar, as Holbein School);
Sale, Lucerne, Galerie Fischer, 1-8 September 1936, lot 2376 (bought by Fischer, as Holbein School);
Anna Stiftinger, Wien VI, Mittelgasse 26/7, by 1938;
With Julius Böhler, Munich (on commission from above October 19, 1938, stock number 13.38);
Carl W. Buemming, Darmstadt;
With Julius Böhler, Munich, acquired from the above, 19 May 1939 (stock numbers 39.205 and 5750) taken from his storage facility in Leutasch, Austria, by French occupying forces in 1945 and later recovered;
Heinz Kisters (1912-1977), Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, acquired from the above, 19 February 1951;
Thence by inheritance.


Augsburg, Schaezler-Haus, Augsburger Renaissance, May - October 1955, no. 250;
Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Sammlung Heinz Kisters: altdeutsche und altniederländische Gemälde, 25 June - 15 September 1963, no. 15.


J.E. Weis-Liebersdorf, "Ein neues Werk des ältere Holbein, in Zeitschrift des Münchner Alterthumsvereins, Neue Folge 13, 1902, pp. 6-7, reproduced;
C. Beutler, Die spätgotische Tafelmalerei Hans Holbein des Älteren und ihre Bildquellen, unpublished dissertation, Universität Bonn (cited in Augsburger Renaissance, see below);
N. Lieb, Augsburger Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, Augsburg 1955, p. 52, no. 250;
H.M. von Erffa, "Die Ausstellung 'Augsburger Renaissance,'" in Kunstchronik, vol. 8, no. 6, June 1955, p. 165, reproduced  p.187, fig.178;
H. Müller, Lebensbilder aus dem Bayrischen Schwaben, vol. 5, 1956, p. 24;
A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, Munich and Berlin, 1957, vol. 8, p. 62, reproduced fig. 122;
N. Liebe and A. Stange, Hans Holbein der Ältere, Munich 1960, pp. 5-6 and 53, no. 1, reproduced;
C. Beutler and G.Thiem, Hans Holbein der Ältere: Die spätgotische Altar- und Glasmalerei, Augsburg 1960, pp. 26-27 and p. 123, no. 4, reproduced pl. 4;
P. Strieder, assisted by D. Stemmler, Sammlung Heinz Kisters: altdeutsche und altniederländische Gemälde, exhibition catalogue, Nuremberg 1963, pp. 15-16, no. 15, reproduced pl. 36;
B. Konrad, "Hans Holbein d. Ä. – Eine Einführing in sein Leben und in sein sein Werk," in Hans Holbein d. Ä.:  Die Graue Passion in ihre Zeit, ed. E. Wiemann, Stuttgart 2010, p. 13.


The following condition report has been provided by Karen Thomas of Thomas Art Conservation LLC., 336 West 37th Street, Suite 830, New York, NY 10018, 212-564-4024, info@thomasartconservation.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting presents nicely with its vibrant color palette and fine details. At least two campaigns of restoration are recognizable, with the most recent clearly visible under ultraviolet illumination. Restoration includes reinforcement of the black linear details atop the gilded passages and compensation for some loses in Mary's blue garment. Earlier retouching, less readily apparent under UV, addresses wear in the modeling of the figures and in the red glazes in the garments. Some of the retouching has discolored, most noticeably in the green cloth of honor. The vertically grained wood panel, comprised of three boards, appears to retain its original thickness and beveled edges on the reverse. The panel was prepared on the reverse with what appears to be gesso and possibly a wash of a neutral tone which is somewhat dirty but otherwise intact. The support displays a very mild compound lateral convex warp and some hairline cracks on the reverse following the joins in the panel. While overall cleaning is not necessary at this time, [given that it would reveal wear and loss that would need to be re-addressed with retouching], correction of off-color retouching could be considered. Otherwise the painting shows no immediate need for conservation.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This small devotional panel by Hans Holbein the Elder depicts the very tender scene of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, a subject that had been popular in Germany from the 14th century onwards.  Long known to art historians and fully accepted as an autograph work, it was never widely exhibited and so was previously seen only by a small circle of specialists.  Now that it has returned to the market, we can appreciate for ourselves its remarkable energy and charm.  During his lifetime Holbein was one the leading painters in south Germany with a large studio at his disposal.  Today, however, we recognize his even greater historical significance because he was a bridge between the lingering Gothic elements of the 15thcentury, seen in works of great northern masters such as Rogier van der Weyden, and the full blown Renaissance style, as embodied in the paintings of his son, Hans Holbein the Younger.  Holbein’s father was a tanner, but his mother, Anna Mair, was related to leading painters and sculptors in and around Augsburg, who provided an important influence for him in his formative years.  In this, one of his earliest extant works, we can see his connection to an older generation of artists as well as his own remarkable talent and inventiveness. The Christ Child is seated between the Virgin and St. Anne.  He seems quite independent although perhaps somewhat precariously balanced as he reaches for the Virgin’s prayer book with his right hand.  On his other side, St. Anne grasps him loosely by his left wrist as she leans forward to offer him an apple.  The Virgin, Christ and St. Anne are all seated on an elaborate golden throne; its base is a barbed quatrefoil, a common motif in Gothic architectural design, which is strewn with roses.  Two flying angels hold up a cloth behind the Infant while above his head flutters the Dove of the Holy Spirit.  The upper corners of the composition are closed off by gilded tracery in a pattern of twining branches. 

Several commentators have noted the influence of the sculptor Nicolaus Gerhaert, on Holbein’s overall conception of the subject, probably known to him through a lost drawing or sculptural group.1  Certainly in Gerhaert’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne in the Deutsches Museum, Berlin (fig. 1), we see a similar sense of freedom in the depiction of the Child, who leans away from the Virgin to reach St. Anne, as well as that same element of instability, as if in his enthusiasm, he might well topple over.  The figures, too, with their thin, elegant bodies, large heads, and the sharp, well-defined folds of the drapery look back to the late Gothic style that characterizes Gerhaert’s sculpture.    

In terms of Holbein’s own oeuvre, the present work is closest in both style and spirit to the artist’s first dated altarpiece, the Afra Altar of 1490.2 The parallels with the panel of the Coronation of the Virgin are striking (fig. 2).  Both works depend on a central grouping of three figures set on and in front of an architectural throne.  Two winged angels hold up a green cloth of honor behind the middle figure, while the Dove of the Holy Spirit flies above.  The drapery, the coloring and the figure types are all very similar, even the slightly eccentric depiction of the dove, but The Virgin and Child with St. Anne is livelier and more spirited.  The angels’ drapery swings further away from their bodies, the gestures of the main figures are more relaxed and the dove appears ready to fly off.  No doubt this was in large part due to the difference in function – its conception as a single devotional panel rather than being part of a larger altar.  This difference also allowed Holbein a greater freedom, and here, early in his career, he took advantage of it to create a fresh and tender depiction of this extended Holy Family.  In his later representation of the subject from the Katharinenaltar of 1512, now in the Staatsgalerie, Augsburg, the figures are larger and more sculptural and the Christ Child’s pose is a pure Renaissance contraposto.  However, some of the spirit is lacking.  In the present panel we have a far more direct connection to the scene before us in which the Christ Child is both the Savior and a very human baby, doted on by his mother and grandmother.


1.  See Stange and Lieb, Loc. cit. and Beutler and Thiem, Op. cit. p. 26.
2.  Only three panels of this altar have been preserved: The Death of the Virgin, The Coronation of the Virgin and The Burial of St. Afra, the first panel is now in the Kunstmuseum, Basel and is dated 1490 in two places; the second and third are in the Bishöfliche Hauskapelle, Eichstätt.