Ursi's Eso Garden
Your Competent Esoteric Guide
Monday, 09. April 2007
The Dance of Death
The theme of the "Danse macabre" dates back to medieval morality tales of a dialogue between Death and representatives from all classes of society, as well as paintings on the walls of churches and charnel houses. Death comes to the mighty and the lowly alike, leading them off in a long procession [see P265]. Hans Holbein (1497-1543) interpreted the theme in a series of drawings done at Basel about 1525, where forty of them were printed as woodcuts executed by the master engraver Hans Lützelburger the following year. They were printed again as woodcuts in 1538 at Lyons, under a different title, and with additional images being added. The work was immediately popular, and many other editions followed, with woodcuts by a number of different engravers. Hollar evidently worked from a Cologne edition as well as one of the earlier Lyon editions, reinterpreting the Holbein images as a series of thirty etchings rather than woodcuts.
Dance of Death (1680)
Hollar's prints first appeared in 1651, while he was working in Antwerp, under the title Mortalium nobilitas iconibus ab Holbeino delineatis et a W. Hollar exsculptis expressa. They depict Dance as a prancing skeleton, and have a macabre energy about them. Each of the thirty prints was enclosed in one of three symbolic decorative borders designed by Abraham Diepenbeeck. The three borders depict Democritus and Heraclitus, Minerva and Hercules, and Time and Eternity.
Dance of Death (Bewick, 1887, coloured plates)
Also included in the collection are examples of the Holbein/Hollar Dance of Death plates by two other artists. David Deucher was an etcher who copied Hollar's plates and the Diepenbeeck borders, and issued them in Edinburgh in 1788, with a portrait of himself and an etched title page dated 1786. The plates are mostly printed in reverse, the sequence is not the same as the Hollar editions, and there are some additional plates depicting new subjects. The Fisher collection includes Deucher's plates in a London edition of 1811, and also in a lithographed edition of 1887, by which time the images have become so degraded that very little fine detail remains. Finally the Hollar prints without the borders were re-interpreted as wood engravings by John Bewick, a master of the revived art of wood engraving, with text by T. Tindall Wildridge. This was issued in London in 1887 in a limited edition of 400 copies, of which 60 were hand-coloured.
The Dance of Death by Wenceslaus Hollar, one of the most famous of 17th century printmakers (1607-1677), David Deucher (1743-1808) and John Bewick (1760-1795) at The Fisher Library, University of Toronto.
Each of the eight books is shown in its entirety, and the text is fully searchable.
See also: The Dance of Death in Book Illustration by Marcia Collins.
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