Hans Holbein is a German artist and the court painter of King Henry VIII. He only appears in a handful of episodes throughout the series, but is frequently mentioned, as he is often comissioned by Henry or whomever Henry's current Queen is to create an artwork. Holbein is not of noble blood either in England or the German states, but he is protected by Henry's patronage. A shy and unassuming man, Holbein does not offer his opinions on anything at court besides art, and thus escapes all the power struggles concerning the nobility and the clergy. Nonetheless, he remains very aware of the Reformation, having originated from the free city of Augsburg in Bavaria- where he would have been openly exposed to Lutheranism. Despite the deaths of his two most prominent patrons- Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn- in Season Two, his reputation remains undamaged.In Season Three, Hobein is doing a nude portrait using Lady Ursula Missledon as his model, commissioned by the King (since Ursula is his latest mistress). Her fiance happens to barge in while Missledon is posing naked, and, misunderstanding, attacks Holbein. Holbein defends himself, throwing the man into a shelf and smashing it in the process. He goes to Henry immediately to apologize, fearing severe punishment for manhandling a nobleman, but Henry finds the incident hillarious and reassures Holbein he has done no harm, telling him to keep working on the painting.
Later in the season after Jane Seymour's death, Holbein is sent along with Henry's envoys to make portraits of various princesses Henry is considering for re-marriage. Although he paints a portrait of Christina of Denmark that particularly draws Henry's interest, Christina is vehemently against the marriage, as Henry's poor reputation has proceeded him ever since he had Anne Boleyn beheaded. When Thomas Cromwell sends Holbein to make a portrait of Anne of Cleves at Henry's request, Cromwell privately orders him to make the portrait beautiful even if Anne of Cleves is unattractive, since Cromwell is determined to unite Cleves with England to further the Protestant influence. This order would have severe repercussions; Henry approves Holbein's portrait but finds Anne herself unattractive and blames Cromwell for the whole affair, leaving him vulnerable to his many enemies at court. Holbein remained court painter, but his standing with Henry was somewhat reduced after Cromwell was executed.In the Series Finale, Holbein is shown working on various stages of his famous painting of Henry, who is nearing the end of his life. At one point, after seeing the vision of his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Henry criticizes Holbein's unflattering work angrily, saying Holbein's portrait of his father made him look old and sickly, and that he painted Henry the same way. He orders Holbein to repaint it. A few weeks before his death, Henry is asleep in his study one night when a servant comes and tells him Holbein has the finished portrait to show him. Henry limps into the room and as Holbein removes the canvass, a stream of images from the series- representing all the major events of Henry's life- play before his eyes. Holbein reveals the image of Henry in his classic 'man of destiny' pose; after contemplating it for a moment, Henry announces that it is well done, and leaves.
List of characters in The Tudors that Holbein painted historically:
Henry VIII (this painting is seen in the series finale)
Sir Thomas More (this painting is briefly seen in Thomas Cromwell's office in Season Three)
Anne Boleyn (sketch only)
Princess Christina of Denmark (Holbein is seen painting this is 3.06)
Anne of Cleves (this portrait is delivered to Henry in 3.07)
- Henry VIII: "It is well done, Master Holbein." (referring to Holbein's final portrait of him)
- Henry: "So then, what did you do?"
- Hans Holbein: "I- er- threw ze gentleman... into a shelf."
- Henry: "You threw him?" (roars with laughter)