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The German painter Holbein worked for a long time in England, where he gained great renown for his lively and meticulously executed portraits. Most of his patrons were merchants and courtiers, but he also received a number of commissions from King Henry VIII. The man in this portrait was a courtier. Thanks to the Latin inscription we know who he was: Robert Cheseman, at the age of 48.

Cheseman falconer to the king, which was an honourable position, the more so because hawking was a sport reserved for the nobility. No wonder, then, that Cheseman was proudly portrayed with his falcon. The hood over the bird’s head served to keep it still. The little bell around its leg helped the hawking party to locate the bird after it had caught its prey.

Holbein’s virtuoso technique is apparent from the smooth rendering of the man’s face and the painstaking depiction of the falcon. Especially well observed are Cheseman’s piercing gaze and the tenderness with which he apparently protects his bird. Such attention to detail enabled Holbein to turn this portrait into a character sketch.

Hans Holbein the Younger
Portrait of Robert Cheseman (1485-1547)
58.8 x 62.8 cm
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