The Dances of Death Through the Various Stages of Human Life wherein the Capriciousness of that Tyrant is Exhibited
THE DANCES OF DEATH
DE LA MORT
Gravé d’aprés les Dessins originaux de
DANCES OF DEATH,
THE VARIOUS STAGES OF HUMAN LIFE:
THE CAPRICIOUSNESS OF THAT TYRANT
IN FORTY-SIX COPPER PLATES;
The Original Designs,
WERE CUT IN WOOD, AND AFTERWARDS PAINTED,
BY JOHN HOLBEIN,
IN THE TOWN HOUSE OF BASIL.
TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED,
Descriptions of each Plate in French and English, with the Scripture Text fromwhich the Designs were taken.
ETCHED BY D. DEUCHAR, F.A.S.
PRINTED BY W. SMITH AND CO. KING STREET, SEVEN DIALS,
FOR JOHN SCOTT, NO. 447, STRAND; & THOMAS OSTELL, NO. 3, AVE MARIA LANE.
JOHN or HANS HOLBEIN was born at Basil in 1498,and died at London of the plague in 1554, aged 56. This admirablePainter was instructed in the art by his father JOHNHOLBEIN. In the early part of his life, he pursued his studieswith incessant assiduity; and being possessed of an elevatedgenius, his progress was exceedingly rapid; so that hesoon became far superior to his instructor. He painted equallywell in oil, water colours, and in fresco; and although he hadnever practised the art of painting in miniature till he resided inEngland, yet he afterwards carried it to its highest perfection.
The invention of Holbein was surprisingly fruitful, and oftenpoetical; his execution was remarkably quick, and his applicationindefatigable. His pencil was exceedingly delicate; hiscoloring had a wonderful degree of force; he finished his pictureswith exquisite neatness; and his carnations were life itself.He excelled all his cotemporaries in portrait, and his genuineworks are always distinguishable by the true, round, lively imitationof flesh visible in them, and also by the amazing delicacyof his finishing.
The genius and excellence of this master were sufficientlyshewn in the historical style, by two celebrated compositionswhich he painted in the Hall of the Steel-yard Company; ofwhich the subjects were the Triumph of Riches, and the conditionof Poverty: these two are universally admired for the richnessof the colouring, as also for the strong character of thefigures through the whole. Frederick Zucchero, on seeingthese pictures, expressed the highest esteem for Holbein, andeven copied them in Indian ink.
In the town of Basil he painted a picture of our Saviour’sSufferings, as well as a Dance of Peasants.
Abbé du Bos observes, that the altar-piece at Basil, paintedby Holbein, may be compared with the best productions of Raphael’sdisciples for composition, and preferred to them withrespect to colouring; that he shews a greater degree of knowledgeof the chiaro-scuro, and particular incidents of light thatare truly marvellous. But that which contributed most to raiseand establish the reputation of this celebrated Painter wasDeath’s Dance, designed and painted by him in the town-houseof Basil; a work truly admirable, and which alone was sufficientto render the name of Holbein immortal.
Sandrart relates, that he heard Rubens acknowledge, that hehad learned a great deal from the pictures of Death’s Dance;and he recommended them strongly to the study of many of hisown profession.
The learned Erasmus was so much struck by the wonderfuldisplay of genius exhibited in this great work, that he conceiveda strong friendship for Holbein; sat to him for his picture; andrecommended him to Sir Thomas Moore, the then Lord Chancellorof England: and to this incident our country is indebtedfor the many excellent performances which it afterwards receivedfrom the pencil of Holbein.
The designs for Death’s Dance were cut in wood by Holbein,and published with the original texts from which they weretaken; from that work the following plates were done. Theycontain the whole of Death’s Dance, with borders and decorations;to which are added, a description of each plate in Frenchand English, and a portrait of Holbein.
THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH,
BY HANS HOLBEIN.
At the side of a stone table, placed vertically, Holbein appearsbehind a curtain, which Death opens to him, to placebefore his eyes the great Spectacle of the Scenes of human Lifethat he is going to sketch. This is also expressed by an heap ofthe attributes of grandeur, dignities, riches, arts, and sciences,mixed with death-heads, which Death is trampling under hisfeet. Below is an epitaph from Lucan—Mors sceptra ligonibusæquat. Death confounds the sceptre with the spade. This tableis topped with a medallion, with the portrait of Holbein. TwoGenii support this medallion; the one surrounded with a garlandof flowers, the other lets fly a butterfly, whilst a third is amusinghimself with making soap bubbles. What these allegoriesmean is easily understood.
PLANCHE I.—LE FRONTISPIECE.
À côté d’une table de pierre posée verticalement, Holbeinparoît derrière un rideau que la Mort lui ouvre, pour mettre sousses yeux le grand Spectacle des Scènes de la Vie humaine qu’ilva dessiner. Ce qui est encore désigné par un amas d’attributsde la grandeur, des dignités, des richesses, d’arts, de sciences,entremêlés de têtes de morts, et que la Mort elle-même foule àses pieds. On lit au has cette épigraphe tirée de Lucain:—Morssceptra ligonibus æquat, La Mort confond la sceptre & la bêche.Cette table est surmountée d’un médaillon avec le portrait deHolbein. Deux Génies soutiennent ce médaillon; l’un l’entoured’une guirlan de defleurs, & l’autrelaisse échapper un papillon,tandis qu’un troisième s’amuse à faire des bulles de savon. Onsent assez ce que signifient ces deux allégories.
Holbein has begun the scenes of life by that which had suchinfluence on all the rest. The Mother of the human race holdsin her right hand, the fatal apple, which she has just receivedfrom the serpent with a young man’s head; and Adam, at thesame time, is plucking another, enticed by the solicitations ofthe too credulous Eve, who shews him the one she has received.
PLANCHE II.—LE PECHE.
Holbein a commencé ces scènes de la vie par celle qui eut tantd’influence sur toutes les autres. La Mère du genre humain,tient dans sa main droite, la pomme fatale qu’elle vient de recevoirdu serpent à tête de jeune homme, & Adam en cueille enmême tems une autre, excité par les sollicitations de la tropcrédule Eve, qui lui montre celle qu’elle a reçue.
Our first parents, driven out by the Angel, are flying fromthe terrestrial Paradise, preceded by Death, who is playing onthe fiddle, and shews by dancing the joy he feels for his triumph.
PLANCHE III.—LA PUNITION.
Nos premiers Parens chassés par l’Ange, s’enfuyent du Paradisterrestre précédés de la Mort, qui joue de la guitare, & démontreen dansant la joie qu’elle ressent de son triomphe.
PLATE IV.—CONDEMNATION TO LABOUR.
Holbein, to mark at once the species of labour which is thelot of man, and that which falls to the share of the woman, representsAdam employed in rooting up a tree, along with Death,who helps him with all his might; and at a little distance Evesuckling her child, and holding a distaff.
PLANCHE IV.—LA CONDEMNATION AUTRAVAIL.
Holbein, pour marquer en même tems le genre de travail quiest le partage de l’homme, & celui qui est le partage de la femme,représente Adam occupé à déraciner un arbre, avec la Mortqui l’aide de toutes ses forces, & un peu plus loin, Eve allaitantson enfant & tenant une quenouille.
PLATE V.—THE POPE CROWNING ANEMPEROR.
A cardinal and three bishops are assisting at the ceremony;Death is there also under the figure of two skeletons, one ofwhich is dressed in cardinal’s robes, the other embraces the holyFather, with the right hand, and is leaning on a crutch with theleft.
PLANCHE V.—LE PAPE COURONNANT UNEMPEREUR.
Un cardinal & trois evêques assistent à cette cérémonie; laMort s’y trouve aussi sous la figure de deux squelettes, dontl’un est revêtu des habits de cardinal; l’autre embrasse le St.Père de la main droite, et s’appuie de la gauche sur une béquille.
PLATE VI.—THE CARDINAL.
A messenger has just presented to him, on his knees, thebull that constitutes him a cardinal. Death seizes this momentto make his appearance, and seems to want to turn his hat uponhis head. The messenger is holding in his right hand a tin box,hung by a strap, in which he had, no doubt, carried the bull,which the new made cardinal holds in his right hand with theseals appended to it.
PLANCHE VI.—LE CARDINAL.
Un messager vient de lui remettre, en faisant une génuflexion,la bulle qui le fait cardinal. La Mort saisit ce moment pourparoître, et semble vouloir lui faire tourner son chapeau sur latête. Le messager tient de la main droite une boîte de fer-blanc,pendu à une courroie, et dans laquelle il avoit sans doute apportéla bulle, que le cardinal nouvellement créé tient à la main droiteavec les sceaux y affixé.
PLATE VII.—THE ELECTOR.
This prince, as he is coming out of his palace with his courtiers,is accosted by a poor woman, who implores his help forherself and the infant she holds by the hand; but he, insensibleto the distresses of the widow and orphan, refuses to listen, andis turning aside with a disdainful air to his courtiers. Death atthis instant appears; and his severe aspect announces, that heis just about to make him repent his hard-heartedness.
Ce prince sortant de son palais avec ses courtisans, est abordépar une pauvre femme qui implore son secours, pour elle & pourl’enfant qu’elle tient par la main; mais insensible aux besoinsde la veuve & de l’orphelin, il refuse de l’écouter, & se tourned’un air dédaigneux du côté de ses courtisans. La Mort paroîtdans cet instant, & son air sévère annonce qu’elle va le fairerépentir de la dureté.
PLATE VIII.—THE BISHOP.
With an air of tranquillity and resignation, this worthy Pastorfollows Death, who is leading him away laughing and dancing,whilst some shepherds, forgetting their flocks, are wanderinghere and there through the country, in despair for the loss oftheir chief. The sun, now ready to set, is just about to leavein darkness the ill-fated flocks, who, having no longer a conductor,will soon become the prey of wolves and other ravenousanimals.
D’un air de tranquillité & de résignation ce bon Pasteur suitla Mort, qui l’emmène en riant et en dansant, tandis que quelquesbergers, oubliant leur troupeau, errent çà & là dans lacampagne, désespérés de la perte de leur chef. Le soleil prêtà se coucher, va laisser dans les ténèbres ce malheureux troupeau,qui n’ayant plus de conducteur, sera bientôt la proie duloup & des autres bêtes féroces.
PLATE IX.—THE CANON.
At the moment he is entering the church, Death accosts him;and, shewing him an hour-glass run down, announces that hishour is come. He