Hieronymus Hess (1799-1850) was an artist from Basel. As a young man he studied a few years in Rome among the contemporary artists known as "Nazarenes". Another Nazarene was the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and Thorvaldsen's Museum's Internet-site has a number of letters from Hess to Thorvaldsen. Later on, Thorvaldsen through his contacts sent the young Hess to Nuremberg, but Hess preferred caricatures to Dürer.
In 1839 Hess was commissioned by Gottlieb Hasler to copy the watercolours that Büchel had made of the dance of death in Basel. The wall with the mural had been demolished in 1805, which might be the reason why Hess could allow himself great artistic license.
The painter and his wife had already disappeared from the mural when Büchel made his watercolours. Hess also skipped the introduction with the preacher and the epilogue with Adam and Eve along with the heathen and the heathen woman.
Another change was the executioner. While there was a "Blutvogt" in the original dance, Hess replaced him with a "Scharfrichter" and a totally different illustration (pictures to the left and right).
Not only was the illustration new. So was the dialogue:
Der Tod zum Scharfrichter.
Auf Blutmensch! mit dem scharfen Schwert!
Antwort des Scharfrichters.
Geköpft, gerädert, strangulirt
Hess added four extra pictures, one of which represented himself. Another addition was the Chinese man.
The Chinese is quite an unusual participant in a German-language dance of death, but the explanation is that the First Opium War started in 1839 — the same year Hess started his work. The Chinese laments, »Mein Opium und sein Begeistern Bringt mir den Tod mich zu bemeistern«. The allusion to the Opium War is even clearer in the English text: »My opium, it is inspiring, But brings me death by English firing«.
Hess' background as caricature artist showed in his work: The participants in the dance had their physiognomy and faces modeled after well-known citizens of Basel. For instance the cook bears the likeness of Monsieur Barrey, the chef cuisinier of Gasthof zum storchen / Hôtel de la Cigogne.
The title repeats the age-old error that Holbein should have created the dance in Basel: »La Danse des Morts à Basle de Jn. Holbein / Basler-Todtentanz von Hans Holbein«.
The various editions are without year, and there is neither preface nor any other information inside the books. The first issue was ca. 1840/41, when Hasler published lithographic copies of Hess' 40 water-colours. The 40 lithographs are all signed »Hess pinxt« and »C. Danzer Lithog.«, so here, and only here, do we learn the name of the talented lithographer.
In some of the editions, the pope is slightly different, and this version is signed: »Hess del. F Hasler lith.« (picture to the left).
After the publication by Hasler in 1841, the lithographs were bought by Albert Sattler, and in 1845 they were transferred to Frédéric Wentzel in Weissenburg in Alsace.
Wentzel placed all of the tri-lingual text on the same side as the picture, and made a simple frame. In this way he erased the names of Hess, Danzer and Hasler, and instead he wrote: »Lith. de Fr. Wentzel à Wissembourg«.
The trilingual text that accompanies the 40 lithographs is a different one than the one accompanying Chovin's, Beck's and Stuckert / Schneider's publications. I have placed these translations under each dancer, e.g.: The pope.