Hieronymus Hess

Hess: Death, who fetches the nobleman has been provided with a fantastic moustache.
Hess: nobleman
The judgment-scene above the entrance to the ossuary has been replaced by the words "Memento Mori".
Hess, The ossuary

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.

On the other hand Hess added four extra pictures, one of which represented himself. The 40 lithographs are accompanied by a trilingual text, which is a different one than the one accompanying Chovin's, Beck's and Stuckert / Schneider's publications. I have placed this translations under each dancer.

The original mural included a "Blutvogt", who was taken by Death like everybody else.
Basel, Executioner
Hess instead has a "Scharfrichter". Death stands close to the executioner with his scythe. The two tools of the two murderers.
Hess 1840: Executioner

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!
(Obschon von Fach, mir lieb und werth) -
Ich sah Verbrecher sammt den Guten,
Von deinen Henkerstreichen bluten.

Antwort des Scharfrichters.

Geköpft, gerädert, strangulirt
Hab ich, und sonst noch maltraitirt;
Ich war nur Werkzeug meiner Herren,
Sie solltest du zum Tanz begehren.

Hess added a Chinese to the dance.
Hess, Chinese
The cook was chef cuisinier Barrey.
Hess 1840: Cook
Another addition was the Chinese. This 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 various editions are without year, and there is no preface or other information inside the books. 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 40 lithographs are all signed »Hess pinxt« and »Danzer Lithog.«. 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.

Hess, Innkeeper
Innkeeper
Hess, Cobbler
Cobbler
Hess, self-portrait
Self portrait
Hess, Chinese
Chinese

Resources

Ossuary
Hess 1840: Ossuary
Pope
Hess 1840: Pope
Ossuary
Hess 1840: Ossuary
Pope
Hess 1840: Pope
Emperor
Hess 1840: Emperor
Empress
Hess 1840: Empress
King
Hess 1840: King
Queen
Hess 1840: Queen
Cardinal
Hess 1840: Cardinal
Bishop
Hess 1840: Bishop
Duke
Hess 1840: Duke
Duchess
Hess 1840: Duchess
Count
Hess 1840: Count
Abbot
Hess 1840: Abbot
Knight
Hess 1840: Knight
Lawyer
Hess 1840: Lawyer
Senator
Hess 1840: Senator
Canon
Hess 1840: Canon
Physician
Hess 1840: Physician
Nobleman
Hess 1840: Nobleman
Noblewoman
Hess 1840: Noblewoman
Merchant
Hess 1840: Merchant
Abbess
Hess 1840: Abbess
Cripple
Hess 1840: Cripple
Hermit
Hess 1840: Hermit
Young man
Hess 1840: Young man
Usurer
Hess 1840: Usurer
Young woman
Hess 1840: Young woman
Musician
Hess 1840: Musician
Herald
Hess 1840: Herald
Mayor
Hess 1840: Mayor
Executioner
Hess 1840: Executioner
Fool
Hess 1840: Fool
Peddler
Hess 1840: Peddler
Blind man
Hess 1840: Blind man
Jew
Hess 1840: Jew
Chinese
Hess 1840: Chinese
Cook
Hess 1840: Cook
Peasant
Hess 1840: Peasant
Painter
Hess 1840: Painter
Landlord
Hess 1840: Landlord
Cobbler
Hess 1840: Cobbler
Hess
Hess 1846: Hess
Hess
Hess 1848: Hess

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