Holbein’s Portrait of Erasmus [BM 193,196/183,186]) hangs at the far end of the Long Gallery at Stourwater. Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1547) was born in Augsburg, in what is now Germany. Holbein arrived in London in 1523 with a recommendation to Thomas More from Erasmus. Holbein’s portraits of Henry VIII, More, and other court figure like Anne Boleyn established his preeminence in British portraiture. He painted at least 3 portraits of the humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam and probably brought 2 of these to England; he gave the portrait currently hanging in the National Gallery as gift to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Powell’s conceit, that a national treasure such as the Holbein Erasmus could be displayed in the private castle of a rich magnate, is culturally accurate. The Fifth Earl of Radnor, who owned Longford Castle, sold Holbein’s The Ambassadors to the National Gallery in 1890. Litigation ensued about the right of the Earl to sell this painting, possibly to the detriment of his heirs. The court in allowing the sale, noted that twelve other Holbeins, including Erasmus, remained at Longford Castle, which has now lent Erasmus to the National Gallery.
Powell was married to Lady Violet Pakenham, of the celebrated Anglo-Irish Longford-Fraser writing dynasty. We do not know whether this Irish Longford family is related to the Earls of Radnor who own Longford Castle in Britain, but we are sure that Powell’s aristocratic connections made him very familiar with great private art collections.