Work William Warham
Department of Paintings: German painting
© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard
William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who played an important role as an intermediary between England and the Papacy, is portrayed here from the waist up, in his private chapel. He is surrounded by luxurious ecclesiastical attributes and insignia of his elevated rank, which contrast with the realism of his aged, care-worn face. Holbein painted the parchment bearing the painting's date (1527) and the model's age (70) in trompe-l'oeil.
A high-ranking clergyman
William Warham, a high-ranking clergyman, is portrayed from the waist up, in his private chapel, with his hands resting on a brocade prayer cushion. He is sitting or kneeling in front of a green damask wallcovering and a Turkish carpet with octagonal motifs. The open prayer book suggests he may have just interrupted his prayers. There is a processional crucifix to his right, and on his left a mitre with a pearled border and books with ornate clasps. Holbein treated these objects as genuinely precious still lifes, mixing gold with the paint, and Warham's sumptuous accoutrements illustrate the importance of his religious office. Bishop of London then Archbishop of Canterbury and finally Chancellor of Oxford University, Warham played a crucial diplomatic role in negotiations between England and the Papacy, notably in the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which he himself had blessed in 1509. He occasionally supported the Pope against England and died, according to Thomas More, in poverty because of his generosity.
A realist and humane portrait
Warham was one of Erasmus' most generous protectors. In recognition, Erasmus sent him a portrait of himself painted by Holbein (London). The work must have greatly impressed the archbishop because he in turn had Holbein paint his own portrait, surrounded by symbolic attributes and in almost the same pose. Holbein made a preparatory drawing for this portrait (Windsor Castle), probably done from life, which superimposes exactly over the Louvre picture and was probably copied onto the picture surface using tracing paper. The realism of the Windsor drawing is slightly attenuated in the Louvre portrait but is still striking and contrasts with the preciousness of the ecclesiastical objects. The archbishop's face, with its wizened, ruddy complexion, care-worn gaze and deep wrinkles, is that of an old man wearied by life. Holbein's acute yet benevolent realism proves that he had learned yet more from Flemish painting than the touches already visible in his Portrait of Erasmus.
This portrait also plays on trompe-l'oeil. Near the upper left edge of the picture, Holbein painted a small piece of parchment, held in place by two discs of red sealing wax, indicating the date of the picture (1527) and the age of the model (70). Logically, the parchment should follow the folds of the wallcovering behind it, but Holbein has painted it perfectly flat, as if it had been stuck onto the painting itself, thereby inviting us to meditate on the picture's fictive, two-dimensional space.
BibliographyBuvelot Quentin, "Les portraits d'Érasme, oeuvres majeures du jeune Holbein", in Dossier de l'Art, n 99, septembre 2003, p.26-31.
Foucart Walter Elisabeth, Les Peintures de Hans Holbein le Jeune au Louvre, catalogue de l'exposition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1985, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1985, Les Dossiers du département des Peintures / musée du Louvre ; 29, pp.27-36.
Hans HOLBEIN II (Augsburg, 1497 - London, 1543)
H. 0.82 m; W. 0.66 m
Germanic countries, 16th century
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.