Death from Basel

The ossuary

In this section:

Todten-tantz
Isaiah
Preacher
Charnel house
Pope
Emperor
Empress
King
Queen
Cardinal
Bishop
Duke
Duchess
Count
Abbot
Knight
Juror
Councilman
Canon
Physician
Nobleman
Noblewoman
Merchant
Abbess
Cripple
Hermit
Young man
Usurer
Young woman
Musician
Herald
Mayor
Executioner
Fool
Peddler
Blind man
Jew
Heathen
Heathen woman
Cook
Peasant
Child
Painter
Mother and child
Turk
Adam and Eve
Memento Mori
Double portrait

Der Todendantz
Huldrich Frölich
  Zwen Todentäntz
  Der Hochloblichen Statt Basel
Hans Bock the Elder
Johann Gross
Coloured gouaches
Matthew Merian
  Merian's preface (German text)
The family Mechel
Emanuel Büchel
Hans Kluber
Jacques-Anthony Chovin
Rudolf Feyerabend
Hieronymus Hess
Beck
Felix Schneider
Kleinbasel / Klingental
Demolition of the wall

One might argue about, which was more famous, Death from Lübeck or "der Liebe Tod von Basel", but at least the mural in Basel was the longer. With its 60 meters (and 39 dancing couples) it was twice as long as the painting in Lübeck. The painting was from ca. 1440 and thus 20-25 years older than the painting in Lübeck.

Death from Basel was in particular made famous through the copperplates that Matthäus Merian created 1616-1649. Merian's copperplates along with copies made by Chovin, Beck and Felix Schneider were published in countless editions through several centuries and made Basel's dance of death world famous throughout Europe.

It must be remembered though, that when Merian produced his copperplates in 1616-1649 the painting was already ca. 200 years old and had gone through several restorations and changes, especially by Hans Kluber in 1568.

As a matter of fact Basel had two dances of death. In the nunnery in Kleinbasel was a copy of the dance of death from (Groß)basel. This copy had been better protected against wind, weather, vandalism and renovations, and here we can see how the dance of death in Basel must have looked originally before all the changes.

The River Rhine divides Basel into Großbasel (top) and Kleinbasel. The arrows indicate the two dances of death.
Basel by Merian

The text in Kleinbasel reveals that Basel's dance originally has been a variant of Oberdeutscher vierzeiliger Totentanz, as we for instance know it from Heidelberg's dance of death. The 24 regular participants has been expanded with 15 more: Lawyer, hermit, young man, usurer, young woman, musician, herald, mayor, executioner, fool, beguine, blind man, Jew, heathen man and woman. None of these are nobility or ecclesiasticals.

Herald by Büchel
Emmanuel Büchel, Herald

Matthäus Merian is considered to be the person who has made the most complete and reliable representation of the dance of death in Basel. In comparison Frölich's book is of little use, because most of the woodcuts are free interpretations of Holbein, while a skilled and conscientious artist like Büchel suffers from seeing the mural more than a 100 years later — after several renovations and at a time where parts of the painting was ruined.

Klein-Basel, Abbess
Klein-Basel: Abbess

For this reason, Merian's copperplates are the starting point for this section about Basel, but we shall continually see "what Merian is up to", evaluate his reliability and try to form an image of what the original medieval painting from ca. 1440 has been like.

In Großbasel, patriarch and archbishop have been replaced by queen and duchess, the lawyer by a councilman, the beguine by a peddler, while mother and child have given place for the painters own family, which in turn were removed later along with the painter. A muslim becomes a heathen, a Turk appears and disappears, while The Garden of Eden is expanded. Against all odds we'll tread carefully while following the painting through centuries of changing taste.

Timeline

Hieronymus Hess
Hess, The ossuary

External link

Don't forget:

TodtenTantz
Merian 1621: TodtenTantz
Isaiah
Merian 1621: Isaiah
Preacher
Merian 1621: Preacher
Ossuary
Merian 1621: Ossuary
Pope
Merian 1621: Pope
Emperor
Merian 1621: Emperor
Empress
Merian 1621: Empress
King
Merian 1621: King
Queen
Merian 1621: Queen
Cardinal
Merian 1621: Cardinal
Bishop
Merian 1621: Bishop
Duke
Merian 1621: Duke
Duchess
Merian 1621: Duchess
Count
Merian 1621: Count
Abbot
Merian 1621: Abbot
Knight
Merian 1621: Knight
Lawyer
Merian 1621: Lawyer
Senator
Merian 1621: Senator
Canon
Merian 1621: Canon
Physician
Merian 1621: Physician
Nobleman
Merian 1621: Nobleman
Noblewoman
Merian 1621: Noblewoman
Merchant
Merian 1621: Merchant
Abbess
Merian 1621: Abbess
Cripple
Merian 1621: Cripple
Hermit
Merian 1621: Hermit
Young man
Merian 1621: Young man
Usurer
Merian 1621: Usurer
Young woman
Merian 1621: Young woman
Musician
Merian 1621: Musician
Herald
Merian 1621: Herald
Mayor
Merian 1621: Mayor
Executioner
Merian 1621: Executioner
Fool
Merian 1621: Fool
Peddler
Merian 1621: Peddler
Blind man
Merian 1621: Blind man
Jew
Merian 1621: Jew
Heathen
Merian 1621: Heathen
Heathen woman
Merian 1621: Heathen woman
Cook
Merian 1621: Cook
Peasant
Merian 1621: Peasant
Painter
Merian 1621: Painter
Mother and child
Merian 1621: Mother and child
Adam and Eve
Merian 1621: Adam and Eve
Memento Mori
Merian 1621: Memento Mori
Double portrait
Merian 1621: Double portrait
Young woman
Merian 1649: Young woman
Cardinal
Merian 1700: Cardinal
Lawyer
Merian 1700: Lawyer
Physician
Merian 1696: Physician
Merchant
Merian 1700: Merchant
Mother
Merian 1696: Mother
Adam and Eve
Merian 1700: Adam and Eve

Up to Dances of death