Emanuel Büchel

Self-portrait of Büchel as baker
Emmanuel Büchel, Self-portrait
Basel, The Jew.
Büchel, Death and The Jew

Emanuel Büchel (1705-1775) was baker, illustrator, topographer and painter. In 1773 he was assigned the task of copying the dance of death in Basel. At that time he was 68 and he died 2 years later.

Büchel's watercolours are beautifully painted in handsome colours and they appear very convincing. But we must take this with a pinch of salt. Büchel executed his watercolours at a very late point in the history of the mural. In 1773 the mural had gone through countless changes and renovations, and it was so deteriorated that the whole wall was demolished only 32 years later.

There's no doubt that Büchel is our most meticulous copyist, but he can only tell us, what the remains of the mural looked like after more than 300 years of changes. Büchel has probably had to base parts of his work on Merian's copperplates, and therefore he has less value as a witness.

Klein-Basel, Abbess
Klein-Basel: Abbess
Klein-Basel. The Jew.
Büchel, Death and The Jew
When it comes to the dance of death in Kleinbasel, the situation is quite different. In this case Büchel is simply our only witness, and the mural that he carefully reproduced had been spared of great changes.

The dance of death in Großbasel was painted on the wall of the churchyard in Basel, and even if it was protected by a lean-to roof it has still been exposed to weather, wind and vandalism. In contrast the dance of death in Kleinbasel was situated indoors in the defunct nunnery and it had been far better protected against weather, wear and tear, iconoclasms and renovations.

The mural that Büchel saw in 1768 was the original medieval painting, and Büchel's reproduction is not just a replica of the mural in Kleinbasel, but at the same time a unique witness to how the more famous painting in Basel has once looked.

Büchel made two sets of his watercolours, one of which is in Kunstsammlung Basel and the other in the university's library.


Death and the heathen woman.
From totentanz-online.de.
Büchel, Death and the heathen woman

Preacher, introducing the dance of death
Emmanuel Büchel, Basel's dance of death

One of the frustrating aspects about making this site is that it's almost impossible to find facsimiles of Büchel's watercolours. Switzerland has a century-old tradition for bank secrets, and the Swiss museums are keeping Büchel's pictures under lock and key as if it were Nazi gold and drug money.

Therefore I have had to use etched copies of Büchel, or even written descriptions, while making this section about Basel.

An example of how well it could have been done is taken from totentanz-online.de. The picture to the left is the heathen woman. Click it and see how good reproductions that exist somewhere in Switzerland.

In this Section about Basel

Basel, Herald
Emmanuel Büchel, Herald