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From the 1520s onward, the Protestant Reformation reduced the demand for religious painting in some parts of Germany, although in others it flourished throughout the 16th century. The violent destruction of religious paintings in Basel in Switzerland in 1529 hastened Hans Holbein's return to the court of Henry VIII in London, where he became painter to the King.

As well as portraits, court painters often produced pictures with nude figures based on classical mythology. These painters included Lucas Cranach, who worked for the Electors of Saxony in southern Germany, and Hans von Aachen, who, later in the 16th century, was painter to the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. In this period landscape painting was not only a prominent feature of subject paintings by artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer, but also a subject for painting on its own.