Huldrich Frölich, 1581

Huldreich Frölich, 1581
Frölich-1581, Lobspruch
Huldreich Frölich, 1581, Death
Frölich-1581, Death

One of the first persons to publish the tekst from Basel's dance of death 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.

Frölich is not our oldest witness. He is surpassed by Iselin, who wrote down the text in 1577(1), and by the book Der Todendantz from 1580, which unfortunately is filled with errors and deviations. But Frölich was the first to publish a reliable text.

The text was illustrated with three woodcuts: Death (picture to the right) and the first and last dancers - i.e. the pope and the Turk. These woodcuts were simply re-used from earlier books so they don't give us any clue about what the mural looked like.

The Illustrations

Basel's city arms
Frölich-1581, Lobspruch
Baszler Chronick, 1580, page lxviii.
City arms

Lobspruch An […] Basel was published by Lienhard Ostein, but oddly enough, all the woodcuts had formerly been used by the publisher Henricpetri

The title page is adorned by the city arms of Basel with a basilisk holding a shield with the "Baselstab" (the staff of Basel")

This woodcut had been used the year before in Baszler Chronick by Christian Wurstisen from 1580 (picture to the right).

Map of Basel
Frölich-1581, Basel
Baszler Chronick, 1580, page dclix.
City map

Then follows a map of Basel, which has also been "sampled" from the Baszler Chronick.

The Pope and Death
Frölich-1581, Pope
Baszler Chronick, 1580.

Then come two of the actors. Unfortunately we can be certain that the pictures tell us nothing about the mural, since we are once again dealing with recycled goods. The woodcut of Death was used in Erste Theil der Hoffhaltung Des Türckhischen Keysers […], 1578 (page clxxxiiii) and no less than 3 times in Baszler Chronick from 1580 (pages clxix, cccliiii and dcxliiii).

Niderlands Beschreibung in welcher aller darinn begriffnen Landtschafften, 1580 page cccxxxii.

The pope has been copied from other books published by by Henricpetri. The Pope appears three times in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographey, 1574 (pages ccccxcviii, dlxxii and dxci) in Cosmographey from 1578 (same page numbers) and Niderlands Beschreibung in welcher aller darinn begriffnen Landtschafften, 1580 (pages ccxxxi and cccxxxii)

The Turk
Frölich-1581, Turk
Hoffhaltung Des Türckhischen Keysers, 1578.

The portrait of the Turk is signed with the letters GS, a small cross and a woodcutter's knife.

The portrait was used in Baszler Chronick (page ccccxx), but it was also used in Hoffhaltung des Türckhischen Keysers vnd Othomañischen Reichs by Nikolaus Höniger, 1578, Cosmographey, 1588 (page dcclix) and Cosmographey, 1598 (dccxcvii).

The interesting part is that every time this portrait is used it is to represent the Turkish emperor Süleyman I, the Magnificent (1494-1566). This is probably the same person that plays the role of the Turk in Basel's dance of death, so even if the portrait isn't copied from the mural, it still shows the right person.

Türckische Chronica, 1577
Kunstbüchlin, 1599.

But it wasn't "GS", who originally designed the portrait. It's a copy of a very similar picture from Türckische Chronica. Wahrhaffte eigentliche und kurtze Beschreibung der Türcken Ankunfft […] from 1577, created by no less a master than Jobst Amman.

The portrait was later reused in Amman's Kunstbüchlin from 1599.

Who was GS?

Georg Scharffenberg's signature with year
GS 1576
Georg Scharffenbergk Formschneider, 1566

The portrait of the Turk is signed with the letters "GS"; a woodcutter's knife and a cross. Seven years later, in 1588, Frölich published Zwen Todentäntz, which included lots of woodcuts with the same signature (picture to the left).

And who is GS then? His signature is found in works published by Henricpetri from 1578 and later.

One possible candidate is Georg Scharffenberg (ca. 1530 - ca. 1607), who in 1566 created a picture of his birth town, Görlitz, which he signed as Georg Scharffenbergk and added a woodcutter's knife (picture to the right).

Another candidate is Gregor Sickinger (ca. 1558 - 1631). He didn't live in Basel either, but in Solothurn. If he is the one who created the woodcuts for Zwen Todentäntz in 1576, he has only been ca. 18 years old, which would explain the low quality.

On some of the woodcuts in the publications from Henricpetri there's a big "V" between the G and the S, so a third candidate is Georg van Sichem. A fourth candidate is Sigmund Gelenius

The pictures

Frölich-1581 1581: Lobspruch
Frölich-1581 1581: Basel
Frölich-1581 1581: Pope
Frölich-1581 1581: Pope
Frölich-1581 1581: Death
Frölich-1581 1581: Death
Frölich-1581 1581: Turk
Frölich-1581 1581: Turk


Further information

Footnotes: (1)

Iselin . . .: manuscript from 1577 by Ludwig Iselin; transcription and analysis by Mischa von Perger, Totentanz-Studien, pages 93-132.