In art historical literature it is deemed desirable to gather, at regular intervals, clearly organised bibliographic lists of what has been written about artists up to that point. That this makes good sense and greatly facilitates research is commonly known _ despite the fact that such work is quickly superceded, and that lacunae may occur. As to the latter, however, increased access to information in libraries and other institutions make such omissions less likely. How enjoyable is such a study if the subject is an artist who stands in the line of fire, so to speak, of busily engaged writers. Hans Holbein the Younger is such a subject.
The work and effort Erika Michael put into her Guide to Research is clearly phenomenal. “Our ideas about the past are the result of an immense cooperative effort,” Wolfgang M. Freitag quotes Ernst Gombrich in his preface as Series Editor, and it is precisely the merit of this book to present a state-of-the-art account of Holbein research in an intelligent, complete and accessible way.
Hans Holbein the Younger. A Guide to Research consists of two parts. In ‘Some Notes on Reception’, Michael considers Holbein’s popularity over past centuries: a.o. the response he enjoyed among collectors and artists, his relationship with other Renaissance masters, his Images of Death in poetry, fiction and music. The author cautions rightly (p. 97) that the varied and sometimes idiosyncratic topics reflected in certain aspects of Holbeiniana were determined by personal choices.
The following includes references to the annotated bibliography, though one never has the impression that this is necessary in order to make better use of the book. The summary approach is sensible and, in any case, intended by the author: “It is hoped that some of the questions and challenges raised here may stimulate a more multi-dimensional approach to Holbein studies, and that the reservoir of old, new, and heretofore unclaimed materials covered by the Annotated Bibliography will offer a useful tool for future Holbein scholarship (p. 97).”
The focus of Erika Michael’s study is obviously placed on the annotated bilbiography (pp. 114-730), consisting of primary sources (contemporary with the artist himself), and secondary sources: monographs, oeuvre catalogues, museum catalogues and guides, articles, etc. The offer is impressive indeed: at least 2,518 entries. This considerably goes beyond the bibliographies found in the standard works by Paul Ganz (Schweizerisches Künstler-Lexikon) and Fritz Grossmann (Encyclopedia of World Art; it may be worth noting that the author was the latter’s student) as well as various specialised databases and libraries worldwide. The author sensibly dis-cusses her material thematically; moreover, her categories are well chosen: archival and source material before 1800; encyclopedic and dictionary entries; monographs, including their reviews; general and miscellaneous articles; museum and exhibition catalogues, again with reviews. The next and most extensive section is devoted to paintings which are arranged by composition (pp. 293-502). This is followed by drawings and prints, again grouped thematically and, within these categories, alphabetically by author (pp. 510-642). Concluding this impressive offer are sections on Iconography; Technique; Patronage, Collectors and the Art Market; and Reception. Each title lists number of illustrations, and, unusually so, in a separate category those which reproduce works by Holbein. In most cases, the bibliographic entry is accompanied by a short but concise summary of its content. An author index makes searching a pleasure.
The impressive amount of information collected, and the way in which this information is organised in a clear and accessible manner make this work into a brilliant reference book. Meanwhile, Holbein will remain a shining light, and will be spoken and written about for a long time. Hans Holbein the Younger. A Guide to Research covers the Holbein literature up to 1997 and thus will be out-of-date in a few years. But without this brilliant study progress in Holbein research would certainly be more difficult. It is thus more than advisable to have this book at hand, now and in the future.