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Hans Holbein

  • Object:

    Mosaic

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1868 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Yeames, William Frederick, born 1835 - died 1918 (designer)
    Salviati & Co. (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Glass mosaic

  • Museum number:

    A.19-2009

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 126, case EWAL

This picture is part of a cycle of monumental mosaic portraits depicting famous artists, here Hans Holbein. The series of originally 35 mosaics was created between 1864 and circa 1875 for the South Court of the South Kensington Museum, the later V&A. The mosaics were originally installed on the side walls as part of a decorative scheme celebrating the arts. This mosaic is made after a painting by William Frederick Yeames.

The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543) worked in England between 1526-28, and again from 1532 until his death in 1543. His portraits of Henry VIII and members of the Court have defined our image of the period. He is shown here holding up a drawing which relates to his portrait of the King, painted in 1537 on the wall of the Privy Chamber at Whitehall.

William Frederick Yeames (1835-1918) was a founder member of the St John's Wood Clique. Like other members of the group he specialised in historical genre painting, particularly of the Elizabethan and Cromwellian periods. His best-known work, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878, is the Cromwellian scene And When Did You Last See Your Father? (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Yeames was an examiner for the Department of Science and Art, and in 1868 was asked to contribute to the decoration of the National Competition Gallery at the South Kensington Museum, where annual exhibitions of students' work were held. Yeames was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1866 and Royal Academician in 1878.

The series of mostly idealised portraits against gold backgrounds soon became known by the public as the Kensington Valhalla. The term alludes to the Vallhall as eternal home of heroes in Norse mythology. It also refers to the concept of a reunion of outstanding personalities of different periods by the means of art. An earlier example of such a hall of fame is the Walhalla near Regensburg in Germany (opened in 1842).

The selection of the Kensington Valhalla includes many famous artists, from Phidias and Apelles as representatives of ancient Greece to contemporaries such as the Irish painter William Mulready who had died only five years before his mosaic was completed.

Mosaics played an important part in the canon of materials and techniques used for the interior decoration of the new South Kensington Museum. The ambitious project of a revival of the art of mosaics involved one of the major Venetian mosaic companies of the time, Salviati & Co. It also led to the innovation of the technique by the introduction of vitrified ceramics mosaics made by Minton, Hollins & Co. These ceramics mosaics were created following the cartoons of professional artists by female students, including members of the family of Henry Cole.

The Kensington Valhalla remained in place until 1949. Some of the mosaics are now on display in other galleries of the museum. In addition to the mosaics themselves, preparatory sketches and cartoons by established contemporary artists such as Edward Poynter or Lord Leighton are part of the V&A collection.

Physical description

Vertical oblong glass mosaic with curved top depicting full-length portrait of Hans Holbein the Younger (ca. 1497-1543) with red cap, showing a sketch of Henry VIII, standing on plinth in front of a golden background

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)

Date

ca. 1868 (made)

Artist/maker

Yeames, William Frederick, born 1835 - died 1918 (designer)
Salviati & Co. (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Glass mosaic

Marks and inscriptions

'HOLBEIN.'

Dimensions

Height: 2.675 m approximate, Width: 0.905 m approximate, Depth: 0.045 m approximate

Object history note

This mosaic was created for the decoration of the South Court of the Museum. It is part of a cycle of mosaic portraits of famous artists. They were created between 1863 and ca. 1875 and installed in blind arcades on the upper level of the South Court.

Portrait of Holbein based upon his Portrait of a Man with red Cap, Basel, Kunstmuseum, inv. no. 1662-6 which was considered a self portrait of Holbein in the 19th century.
The sketch is based upon Holbein's iconic 1537 Whitehall Mural full-length portrait of Henry VIII. The mural itself was destroyed when Whitehall Palace burned down in 1698. Numerous copies of the portrait and its cartoon (London, National Portrait Gallery) survive.

Historical significance: Only few extensive mosaic cycles were executed in the 19th century. Apart from the South Kensington Valhalla the mosaics of the Albert Memorial, Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor, and at Saint Paul's Cathedral, all begun in 1864, were the only other comparable projects of the time. All of them were made by Salviati & Co.
The mosaics of the South Kensington Valhalla are based upon designs of a variety of artists, some of whom were, or were to become, major figures of the Victorian art world. The commission is extremely well documented. The related documents and cartoons at the V&A make this cycle of mosaics not only an outstanding group of artistic value, but are also an excellent case study for the history of the buildings of the Museum.

Historical context note

The Museum played an important part in the revival of mosaic in Britain in the 19th century. The technique goes back to ancient times and was always regarded as one of the most precious and long-lasting techniques for adorning walls and floors. The enormous costs of mosaics limited its success in the 19th century.
The early mosaics for the South Court were made using the traditional material glass. They were created by the Venetian company Salviati & Co., the most successful mosaic makers of the time who had branches in London and New York. The majority of the mosaics consist of vitrified ceramics which were provided by the English company Minton, Hollins & Co. The Mosaics were made by the Mosaic Class of the Art School of the South Kensington Museum and were supervised by a representative of Minton. Amongst the students were family members of Henry Cole.
A second, less ambitious series of mosaics was created for the north cloister between 1868 and 1874. In 1878 a ceramic mosaic memorial for Sir Henry Cole, designed by Frank Moody was installed on the first landing of the Ceramic Staircase and is still in place today. The use of mosaic at the museum also included marble mosaic floors, some of them laid by 'Female Convicts' of Woking Prison from 1869 and was dubbed Opus Criminale by contemporaries.

Descriptive line

Mosaic panel, glass, depicting Hans Holbein, by Salviati after a painting by William Frederick Yeames, Britain, about 1868

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Physick, John. The Victoria and Albert Museum. The history of its building. London: The Victoria & Albert Museum 1982. Pp. 62-67, no. 22.

Materials

Glass

Techniques

Mosaic

Subjects depicted

Sketches

Categories

Portraits

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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