The Noblewoman

The Noblewoman
Basel's dance of death, The noblewoman

Todt zur Edelfrawen:
VOm Adel Fraw laßt euwer Pflantzen,
   Ihr müsset jetzt hie mit mir tantzen,
Ich schon nicht euwers geelen Haar:
   Was seht jhr in den Spiegel klar?

Death to The Noblewoman
Noble woman, stop styling your hair.
You must now dance with me here.
I don't spare your yellow hair.
What do you see in the clear mirror?

Die Edelfraw:
O Angst vnd Noth wie ist mir b'schehen,
   Den Todt hab ich im Spiegel g'sehen:
Mich hat erschreckt sein grewlich G'stalt,
   Daß mir das Hertz im Leib ist kalt.

The noblewoman.
Oh fear and distress, what has happened to me?
Ì have seen Death in the mirror.
His awful figure has terrified me,
so the heart in my body is cold.
"What do you see in the clear mirror?"
Basel: The noblewoman's mirror
Emmetten: Noblewoman
Emmetten: noblewoman

Death asks the noblewoman, »What do you see in the clear mirror?«, and what does she see? Death prancing around in the most em-bare-assing way, of course. That's precisely a part of the humour in the dances of death that Death doesn't care about people's high standing: Death drags people away, tears the hat off the councilman, the abbot and the peasant, peeks under the abbess' dress, grabs the mother's breasts, and tugs at the Jew's beard. Therefore it's only to be expected that he flaunts his naked derrière in front of the genteel noblewoman.

The noblewoman answers that she has »seen Death in the mirror«, and so she has - quite literally.

A dance of death is not just a mirror of society, but also a mirror of the transitory nature of each person. Therefore Death delights in showing the (vain) women, how little their beauty is worth (example to the right).

Detail by Büchel
Büchel, Noblewoman
The devil in the mirror

The picture to the left is from Büchel's watercolors. On the other hand his copy of the noblewoman in Kleinbasel is more ordinary: The noblewoman sees her own face in the mirror.

The picture to the right is from "Der Ritter vom Thurn Zuchtmaister der Weiber vnd Junckfrawen", 1538, The noble lady is siting and watches the devil's rear in her mirror.

Original fragment
Fragment, Noblewoman
Fragment, Noblewoman

At the museum in Basel there's still a fragment of this painting. The dance of death may be gone, but Death's posterior has been conserved for posteriority. Reminding us that the end is neigh.

English translation from Beck, 1852
Death to the Lady.The Lady's reply.

My lady, leave your toilette's care,
And for a dance with me prepare;
Your golden locks can't help you here,
What see you in your mirror clear?

Oh! horror! What is this? Alas!
I've seen death's figure in my glass;
His dreadful form fills me with fright
My heart grows cold and senseless quite.

Translation from Hess, 1841
Death to the Lady.Answer of the Lady.

Noble lady let your planting,
Here with death you must be dancing;
I don't spare your yello hair,
What see you in the miror fair?

O trouble! o grief! what happened to me?
For truly death in the miror I see;
His horrid shape, thus frightned me,
That the heart in my body cold will be.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Noblewoman
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Noblewoman
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Noblewoman
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Noblewoman
Fragment (1805)
Fragment 1805: Noblewoman
Fragment (1805)
Fragment 1805: Noblewoman
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Noblewoman
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Noblewoman
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Noblewoman
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Noblewoman
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Noblewoman