Hans Kluber

Hans Kluber and family appear at the end of the dance of death
Scharffenberg, Painter
Hans Kluber is fetched by Death
Gouache, Painter Hans Kluber with family

This section about Basel's dance of death follows Merian, who made his copies in 1616. If we compare Merian's copperplates with the dance of death in Klein-Basel, which originally was a copy of the dance of death in Groß-Basel, there are countless small and great differences.

By far the most and greatest of these changes are thought to have been introduced by Hans Klauber when he renovated the mural in Groß-Basel in 1568.

The dance of death is introduced by a Preacher, who represents the Swiss reformer Johannes Ökolampadius dressed in a post-reformatory cassock. It's possible that Kluber has simply updated an existing preacher, but something might indicate that the preacher wasn't added before 1568. First of all there's no preacher in the dance of death in Klein-basel, secondly the preacher's sermon has no relation to the sermon we usually find in Oberdeutscher vierzeiliger Totentanz like for instance in Heidelberg.

To the left of Ökolampadius is a tablet with Isaiah chapter 40, where human life is compared to the withered grass, and the picture of the ossuary continues in the same track by comparing man with flowers plucked by Death. The text is totally different in Klein-basel.

The first dancer is the pope, who now — after the Reformation — is derided for selling indulgences. There's even a (useless) letter of indulgence lying on the ground.

Further ahead in the dance, the cardinal has replaced the patriarch, while the old cardinal is replaced by a queen. In the same way, the bishop has taken the archbishop's place, and the bishop is replaced by a duchess. In this way Klauber has reduced the number of Catholic ecclesiasticals in favour of secular women.

As the dance proceeds, a councilman has taken the place of the lawyer, while the beguine has given way to a peddler.

At the end of the dance, Kluber replaced the pictures of mother and child with pictures of himself and his family. On the other hand it's a bit uncertain whether there has been a picture of Adam and Eve (and how broad it has been), and when and where the Turk was added.

Basel, The fool
Basel's dance of death: The fool
Holbein, The queen
Holbein, The queen

Kluber has also introduced countless other changes, which often are inspired by Holbein's dance of death. For examples of Holbein's influence, see the heathen woman, the blind man, the cook and the hermit. The most obvious example is the fool (picture to the left), where Death (except for the hourglass) is a mirror-inversed copy from Holbein's woodcut of the queen (picture to the right).

With all these modernizations, Klauber has removed the mural from its Catholic roots and transformed it into an edifying, Protestant sermon. In this way he has also ensured that the mural not only survived the iconoclasm, but also the next couple of centuries of changing taste.

On this background is easier to understand, how Hans Kluber was "shameless" enough to add himself as the painter at the end of the dance, even though he had "only" renovated it.

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