Links are to zoomable versions on the Google Art Project. The painting is in the Frick Collection, which also has a zoomable version, downloadable image on Wikimedia Commons; the drawing is in the Royal Collection Trust, downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons.
This portrait of the English writer, philosopher and statesman Thomas More was commissioned of German painter Hans Holbein the Younger in 1527 — five years before More was tried and beheaded for refusing to swear an oath accepting Henry VIII’s separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church, basically over Henry’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry his flame Anne Boleyn. (Somehow, politics and soap operas never seem to change.)
Holbein’s reputation as a portraitist is well deserved; this one I think, being one of his finest. I come away with a sense that I know without question what this man looked like. No flattery, no embellishment except in the rendering of the velvet sleeves and medallion of the Tudor rose and livery chain.
I’ve had the opportunity to see the original at the Frick in New York, and the painting has a striking, palpable presence.
The drawing is related to a series likely done in preparation for this portrait; but, even though it’s punctured for transfer, it doesn’t seem to be the final drawing from which the portrait was started.
For more on Holbein, and this portrait, see my previous post on Hans Holbein the Younger.