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Work Study for the Triumph of Riches

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Le Triomphe de la Richesse

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Boyer Sarah

In about 1532, during his second stay in London, Holbein painted the Triumph of Riches and the Triumph of Poverty for the hall where the merchants of the Hanseatic League held their celebrations. The tempera grisailles with gold and watercolor highlights follow the humanist code of Petrarch's Triumphs, dating from the mid-15th century, and used more recently by Dürer in the Triumph of Maximilian. They feature a procession of life-sized allegorical figures surrounding a chariot.

A complex iconography

The drawing in the Louvre is the sole remaining autographic trace of this decoration. It features Plutos, god of riches, as an old man with his eyes closed, leaning on a cane. He is sitting on a raised throne in the chariot. To the side of him is a horn of plenty symbolizing his link with Ceres, goddess of fertility. Blind Fortune, her eyes bandaged, stands before him, holding a veil, which is swelling in the wind. She is scattering gold pieces to the famous plutocrats of antiquity, Tantalus, Midas, Croesus, and Cleopatra among them. To the right, hovering over the cortege, is Nemesis, the vengeful goddess and guardian of moderation, whose divine attributes are a horse's bit and a setsquare. The chariot is being driven by Reason who holds the reins of Knowledge and Will. The copies of the decoration indicate that the four horses represent the vices associated with lucre: Avarice, Usury, Simony, and Contract. They are under the watchful eye of the four virtues of the Christian Vulgate - Liberality, Equity, Justice, and Good Faith. The conclusion to this ambitious allegory is given in Latin on the phylacteries that bear the inscription "Gold is the father of seduction and the son of pain; he who lacks it suffers, he who has it lives in fear."

From the study to the finished decor

Some authors consider this sheet, comparing it with copies, to be a first step to the completed decoration. It is true that the artist pays attention to each of the groups of the cortege, taken one by one. In the grisaille, on the other hand, he increases the number of figures, giving the cortege as a whole much more the appearance of being one large crowd, in keeping with the new style of the day. This change in emphasis is accentuated by some of the modifications. For instance, Justice (the second personage on the left) and Sychaeus (the third) are turning towards the viewer, thereby increasing the overall feeling of movement within the cortege. Likewise, the chariot - still rather heavy in this drawing - becomes a shell in the later versions.

A portraitist and decorator

The Triumph of Riches is a very rare and precious record of Holbein's work as a mural decorator in England. The work's format and technique are similar to those seen in Samuel Cursing Saul (Basel), a project for a decoration of Basel Town Hall dating from about 1529-30. This drawing, reminiscent of Mantegna's Triumphs (of Caesar), likewise illustrates an aspect of Holbein's art other than portraiture: his designs for great decorations, at the Steelyard, the Hertenstein House in Luzern (since lost, but the preparatory drawings can be seen in the Kupferstichkabinett in Basel), and the Zum Tanz House in Basel (also lost, preparatory drawings also in the Kupferstichkabinett, Basel).


Mantz Paul, Hans Holbein, Société Française d'Éditions d'art, s.d., pp. 142-146.
Koegler Hans, "Holbeins Triumphzüge des Reichtums und der Armut", Jahresberichte 1931/32 der Öffentlichen Kunstsammlung Basel, 1933, pp. 57 et suiv.
Michel Régis, Les Mots dans le dessin, cat. exp. musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986, p. 30, n 27.
Magnon M., Dessins de Dürer et de la Renaissance germanique, cat. exp. musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991-1992, p. 160, n 146.
Bonnefoit R., Largesse, cat. exp. musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, p. 192, n 77.
Muller Christian, Dürer, Holbein, Grünewald : Meisterzeichnungen der deutschen Renaissance aus Berlin und Basel, cat. exp. Bâle, Kunstmuseum, Berlin, Staatlichen Museen, 1997-1998, pp. 343-418, n 25.1-25.32.
Muller Christian, From Schongauer to Holbein. Master Drawings from Basel and Berlin, cat. exp. Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1999-2000, pp. 350-424, n 161-191.

Technical description

  • Hans Holbein the Younger (Augsburg, 1497/1498-London, 1543)

    Study for the Triumph of Riches

    c. 1532

  • Pen, brown ink, brown and black ink wash, and highlights of white gouache added later on beige paper over a sketch in black chalk; paper squared; framed by a pen-and-brown-ink line; traces of the gold strip Jabach added to works he particularly admired

    H. 25.2 cm; L. 56.9 cm

  • Everhard Jabach collection; purchased for the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, 1671


  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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