the first persons to publish the entire tekst in German was Huldreich (Ulrich) Frölich,
who in 1581 published the book:
»Lobspruch An die Hochloblich unnd Weitberümpte Statt Basel«.
The book is a rhymed account of the city of Basel and a great part of the book is assigned
to quoting the text from the dance of death,
all the way from the Bible quotes in the beginning
over the child
to the Turk.
The text was illustrated with three woodcuts: Death (picture to the left) and the first and last dancers - i.e. the pope
and the Turk.
None of these 3 woodcuts bear any resemblance to the mural.
Seven years later, in 1588, Frölich published a book solely about dances of death:
»Zwen Todentäntz: Deren der eine zu Bern […] Der Ander aber zu Basel«.
As the title reveals, this book contained two dances of death,
i.e. from Bern and Basel — in fact the book contained 4 dances of death,
because Frölich had added verses in Latin of
and the book was illustrated with woodcuts, the majority of which were (bad) copies
of Holbein's dance of death.
Georg Scharffenberg's signature with year
The heathen is one of the few pictures that actually show a scene from Basel.
The heathen's wife appear on the same woodcut, which could then be used twice. The figures are laterally inversed.
Notice that Death has breasts and veil.
As mentioned most of the woodcuts are scenes from Holbein's dance of death,
and they are treated on this page about Holbein and Georg Scharffenberg.
Only a few of the woodcuts showed scenes from Basel,
i.e. the heathen and his wife (together on one woodcut, which was used twice),
the painter and his family (together on one woodcut, which was used twice), the cook and presumably Adam & Eve.
The picture of the blind man is copied after Holbein, but Scharffenberg added the idea from Basel
with Death cutting the leash to the guide dog.
Three woodcuts are either very free interpretations or free imagination.
Thus Frölich started the misunderstanding that lives to this day,
i.e. that Holbein should have had anything to with the dance of death in Basel.
In defense of Frölich it should be mentioned that he only presented
the Holbein copies as
»schönen und zu beyden Todentäntzen dienstlichen Figuren«
— i.e. pictures that were "serviceable" to illustrate both dances of death.
Most of the woodcuts are signed GS, which is believed to stand for
Georg Scharffenberg (ca. 1530 - ca. 1607) or possibly
The woodcuts were already rather old when Frölich used them in 1588:
One of them (picture to the left) bears the year 1576 —
i.e. 5 years before
»Lobspruch An […] Basel«
and 12 years before »Zwen Todentäntz«.
This limited selection of woodcuts has presented Frölich with a challenge when he illustrated his book.
For senator, cripple, herald, executioner, Jew and Turk,
he has been forced to use "replacement pictures" —
i.e. small pictures of people and small pictures of skeletons.
One of these skeletons, the one with an hourglass, had been used in the 1581-edition (top, left corner of this page),
the other one was Death with a spade (picture to the left).
Frölich also turned Basel's "kirbepfeiffer" (i.e. market fair musician)
into a "kirbekrämer", so that he could use the copy of Holbein's peddler twice.
In the same way the hermit was illustrated with Holbein's old man,
the young man with Holbein's nun (there wasn't any nun in Basel's dance of death anyway),
the usurer with Holbein's rich man, and
the mayor with Holbein's judge.
Most of the book follows the sequence from the dance of death in Basel.
But Frölich places Adam & Eve and the Expulsion in the beginning of the book,
while Adam & Eva was at the end of the dance in Basel.
Holbein's preacher was placed last in the book, where he preaches the texts
from Isaiah and Daniel
that introduced Basel's dance of death on the mural.
The last part of the book is a grab bag of those Holbein-copies and those Bern-texts,
that Frölich had been unable to put into a Basel-context.
An oddity is that Basel's "Chorherre" is illustrated with Holbein's priest,
while at the end of the book Holbeins canon is used for illustrating Bern's "Thumbherre".
As fas is I know a canon, a "Chorherre" and a "Thumbherre" are the same thing.
In 1608 Frölich published
Der Hochloblichen und Weitberümpten Statt Basel,
which according to the title page combined
the versified description of the city from 1581
with Basel's and Bern's dances of death
and Scharffenberg's Holbein-copies.
The text from Frölich's 1581-edition was later re-printed by
in Gross and Tonjola,
while the woodcuts from the 1588-edition were published for more than a century by the Mechel family
and later as lithographs from Mähly-Lamy.
Latin verses . . .:
Frölich himself writes in the introduction that he has created the "bad" latin verses as a sort of exercise:
Solches nun desto öffter und ernstlicher zu betrachten, hab ich mir under anderem, nicht allein
in der Lateinischen Sprache und Carminibus mich zu exercieren, den Todentantz,
wie er zu Basel der Ordnung nach auff S. Predigers Kirchhof mit Teutschen Reumen verzeichnet, in Lateinische,
doch schlechte Vers, zu transferieren fürgenommen.
There's nothing improbable about this since the introduction also
contains several pages in Latin.
But in the book Literatur der Totentänze from 1840, Hans Ferdinand Massmann asserts on the authority
of an imperial legate named Goldman that the verses were in fact taken from another book:
Die von H. Frölich zugegebene lateinische Uebersetzung des Baseler Todtentanzes findet sich 1584
schon in Casparis Laudismanni […] Decennalia mundanae peregrinationis. (page 30, footnote 3).
The problem is that nobody has ever seen
Caspar Laudismann's book Decennalia mundanae peregrinationis.
In 1616 Laudismann published the book Consilium integrum, where he writes
that in 1584 he had written a description of Basel's dance of death as part of his
Tria decennalia mundanae peregrinationis,
»Choreas in illustri Civititate Helvetica Basiliensi egregie depictas, anno 1584, ab hujus Consilij Authore descriptas, & III, suis Decennalibus mundanæ peregrinationis insertas«.
However he doesn't write that this book was published.
On the contrary he writes (page 499), that he will dedicate his work to
the long list of princes that he has listed on
If anybody has quoted from Decennalia mundanae peregrinationis
it must have been from a unpublished manuscript.
To make the waters even more muddy,
Laudismann then quotes a single dialogue, namely Death and the (English) queen.
On the one hand Frölich's and Laudismann's verses are far too similar for it to be a coincidence,
but at the same time they are significantly different.
Regalis tibi mando tori, suavissima Consors,
Deponas MUNDI gaudi cuncta tua:
Nam defunctorum cogeris salvere catervam,
Conjuge deserto, pignoribusque tuis.
Non nitor hoc vultus, argentum avertet & aurum:
Sed nostras videas deliciasque volo.
Heu nemo opem mortalium
Adest qui in his periculis
Præstare posset unicam:
Ubi meæ pedissequæ?
Heu dum micabat prospera
Fortuna mecum plurimùm
Facundum agebant otium:
Parcas mihi, Mors, fla-gi-to.
Regalis tibi mando tori, suavissima consors,
Deponas mundi gaudi vana tua.
Nam mortalis ad ereptos è carcere vitæ
Perceleri, tecum jam properabo pede.
Muneribus Mors non pretiosis flectitur atra
Omnes unde viam cogit inire suam.
Heu nemo adest Mortalium
Qui posset hoc sævissimo
Levare me discrimine:
Ubi meæ pedissequæ?
Ah dum micabat prospera
Fortuna, mecum plurimùm
Facundum agebant otium:
Mors parce nunc, moram dato.
I am indebted to Mischa von Perger for help in explaining the above.
All misunderstandings remain my own responsibility.