Coloured Gouaches

Copy from the book "Trionfo e Danza della Morte".
Basel's dance of death, The child

One of the oldest witnesses to the dance of death in Basel is a collection of 40 separate gouaches. Each gouache is divided into three parts by bands of gold: First there are four lines of text (Death's speech), then a colour picture measuring about 12 x 11.5 centimeters and finally four lines with the human's reply. Four scenes are missing: Adam & Eve, noble woman, merchant and painter's wife — on the other hand there's both child and Turk.

The gouaches have been bound in the 19th century but this has been done in a rather random fashion: Right after the preacher and the ossuary follow the child and the mayor. In the background of each scene are landscapes with mountains, castles and houses, but it's not possible to arrange the pictures in such a way that the backgrounds fit together, like it is for instance in Lübeck.

This gouaches haven't received much attention, except that Giuseppe Vallardi described them in the book "Trionfo e Danza della Morte" from 1859, where he included a (good) reproduction of the child (picture to the right).

In more recent time the gouaches have been described by Dr. Uli Wunderlich (see references below). The gouaches reflect the changes to the mural that are thought to have been added by Hans Kluber in 1568 — including all the changes that are influenced by Holbein's dance of death. Hans Kluber himself appears as the painter and Death orders him to leave his work: »Hanns Hug Klauber laß molen ston«.

Detail from the mural: About the doorway there's a scene depicting Judgment Day. This detail is not included on the gouaches.
Fragment, Ossuary

One thing that is missing is the Judgment Day scene above the doorway of the ossuary. This detail is missing on the gouaches as well as in Klingental, which might be another proof that this little painting within the painting wasn't added before Emanuel Boch restored the mural in 1614-1616.

This indicates that the gouaches are produced between 1568 and 1616. On this background and based on the way the man to the right of the Turk is dressed, Dr. Wunderlich concludes that the gouaches are from about 1600.

The gouaches are an independent witness about the text, and they appear to use a more local local dialect than our other text-witnesses. One might suppose that Merian and Frölich have adjusted the language in order to sell their books to a wider audience.

The gouaches are also our oldest picture-source, and they are even in colour. When it comes to the child and the Turk, these gouaches are simply our only picture-source.


In this Section about Basel