Basel: Adam and Eve in Paradise

Adam and Eve
Basel's dance of death, Adam and Eve
Büchel 1773, Adam & Eva
Büchel, Adam and Eve

The dance ends with a picture of Adam and Eve. Along with the picture comes a long sermon about the Fall, the Original Sin and Christ as the Great Redeemer (see bottom of this page).

With this text Hans Kluber was able to remove the mural from its Catholic roots and instead turn it into Protestant propaganda. In that way Kluber also made it possible for the mural to survive the changing tastes and iconoclasms for a few more centuries.

The position and size of this scene is hard to figure out. Our oldest sources, those that are older than Merian, are all silent:

So the long and short of it is, that none of our sources before Merian indicate there ever was a Paradise scene. With Frölich as a possible exception.

Zwen Todentäntz, 1588-1608

Frölich 1588, Adam & Eve
Scharffenberg, The Fall

Frölich illustrated his 1588-edition, Zwen Todentäntz, with numerous woodcuts, the majority of which were (bad) copies of Holbein's dance of death produced 12 years earlier, in 1576,

Frölich used these woodcuts to illustrate the dances of death in Basel and in Bern. First he brought those woodcuts that could illustrate the dance in Basel, and then the woodcuts that could illustrate Bern but not Basel. A case in point is the copy of Holbein's Expulsion (picture to the right), which was accompanied with text from Bern's dance of death. Bern had an expulsion scene; Basel did not.

Finally Frölich brought those woodcuts (canon, sailor, gambler, boozer and robber) that he couldn't combine with either of the two dances. These last 5 woodcuts were given the headline "Concinnator" to show that it was him, the author, who had invented the dialogue.

In this book from 1588, Adam & Eve are the first in the dance (even though they were the last on the mural in Basel) and there is no text resembling Merian's. Instead the illustration was used for an introduction, which promises that we are about to read an explanation about the hardness of life, in Latin and German:

Frölich also included a copy of Holbeins Expulsion from Paradise.
Scharffenberg, Expulsion

ADAM und EVA durch den Fall,
  In was noht bracht uns Menschen all,
Werden ordenlich in Latein,
  Und Teutsche Verss erklären sein.

This verse is also headlined "Concinnator", meaning that it was written by Frölich himself. It is clear that this text could not have appeared on the mural, but was written for the book. The book was in Latin and German, but the painting was not.

At the very end it becomes even clearer. After reproducing the Turk's dialogue, Frölich turns again to the satyr, whom he has shown around town (I quote the 1608 edition):

Hiemit die Reüm des Todtentantz /
  O Satyre / sich enden gantz / […]
Doch zwey Verßlein so volgen nun /
  Ihn gantz vnnd gar beschliessen thun:
Mit stiller Stund     Gehn wir zu Grundt:

This means that after the Turk, the dance ends completely ("enden gantz") and the little verse, "Mit stiller Stund", finishes the dance totally ("gar beschliessen").

Frölich then proceeds to reproduce a commemorative plaque detailing the times the painting had been renovated and who paid for it:

Sampt einer Taflen da notiert /
  Wenn diß Gemähl wurd renoviert.

Frölich could hardly express himself more clearly: There wasn't any text for Adam and Eve. If there had been such a text, he would have reproduced it. And since there was no such text, then it follows that there wasn't any image of Paradise, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the dance.

The open question is whether Frölich's woodcut is another (bad) copy of Holbein's Fall of Man, or if the artist could have peeked at other images, like for instance the famous engraving by Dürer:

Albrecht Dürer, 1504
Adam and Eve
Holbein, 1526
Holbein Proofs, Paradise
Frölich, 1588
Scharffenberg, The Fall
Merian, 1621
Merian, Adam and Eve
the Expulsion (further up, to the right).

Merian and Frölich share the posture of the bodies (also with Dürer), but in contrast there's a marked difference when it comes to the animals in the background. Frölich doesn't have the parrot, which Dürer, Merian, Büchel and Feyerabend (see further down) all share, and he doesn't have the lion and the eagle that Merian, Büchel and Feyerabend have.-->

Size of the Scene

Büchel shows eight verses above Adam & Eva
Büchel, Adam and Eve

Merian published his engravings immediately following a renovation in 1614-1616. picture of the child and the Turk have disappeared, whereas Adam & Eve are included in all editions, from 1621 and later. The scene is placed at the back of the dance and accompanied by eight verses (see further down on this page).

One thing Merian and Frölich agree on is that the Paradise-scene is no wider than the other engravings in the series — and here they are contradicted by our other sources.

Büchel's watercolor (to the right) shows that the eight verses and "Mit stiller Stund […]" were written above the scene, which is far broader than the others, and that is how it must logically have been if there was to be room for the eight verses. In Büchel's time, the painting had again been renovated (in 1657/58), and he informs us that the painter and his family had been removed, and that the Paradise-scene was moved in order to fill up the space.(1)

It is difficult to figure the exact size out, since the watercolors are not drawn to scale. Büchel says that the last scenes were the tallest, and that Adam and Eve were 5½ Schuh (i.e. feet) high. Logically, this height would include the text (this would explain that the pictures got taller towards the end), and in that case the width would be 8½ feet. If, on the other hand, the 5½ feet refers to the people, as Büchel seems to imply, the scene must be 13½ feet wide.

How many people would 8½ or 13½ feet correspond to? Büchel says that the total length of the painting was 192 feet, but he also says that it was 80 "gemeine Schritt", and if these "ordinary steps" are two feet each, as Maßmann believes, the length would only be 160 feet.(2)

It will therefore be mostly guesswork, 160 or 192 feet divided by ca. 40 scenes to give an average to be compared to 8½ or 13½ feet for the Paradise. Furthermore the paradise may very well have been expanded in several rounds, over time while child, Turk, painter and painter's wife disappeared. Th. Burckhardt-Biedermann believes that this scene was three times as wide as the others.(3).

Placement of the Scene

Burckhardt-Biederman suggests this model over the different renovations:

RenovationFiguresOur source
1568 (Kluber)Painter's familyPainter
1616 (Bock)Painter's familyPainterAdam & EveMerian
1658 (Meyer)
Adam & Eve

The problem with this model is that it doesn't take the child into account. Burckhardt-Biederman hides this by writing "Painter's family", but the fact is that all our witnesses: Ludwig Iselin's manuscript from 1577, Der Todendantz, the gouaches and Frölich gives us one dialogue for the child and another for the mother / paintress. The model doesn't explain very well either, how a picture book with gouaches from 1600 (which was unknown to Burckhardt-Biederman) can include a picture of the child.

Feyerabend 1806, Adam & Eve
Basel, Feyerabend

Dr. Uli Wunderlich(4) instead suggest this model:

Original   Child   Child's Mother
1568 (Kluber)   Child  
Painter's familyPainter
1616 (Bock)
Adam & Eve
Painter's familyPainter
1658 (Meyer)
Adam & Eve

The problem with Wunderlich's model is that Frölich places the Turk at the very end of the dance — first the child, then the child's mother, then the painter and finally the Turk. Frölich's book finishes with the Turk's dialogue, and as mentioned, he then tells his imaginary "satyr", »Hiemit die Reüm des Todtentanz, O Satyre sich enden gantz«.

The same thing is true for Der Todendantz and for Ludwig Iselin's manuscript from 1577. They all agree in placing the Turk at the end — after the painter. Frölich's 1588 edition is totally re-edited compared to the 1581 edition, but the Turk still comes after the painter.

Merian doesn't know anything about a Turk, but he places Adam & Eve after the painter and his family. It should be noted that Merian places the painter before the painter's wife, which is an obvious error, but we still know that Adam & Eve must be the last in the dance, because they are followed by a long, boring final sermon — the sheer size of which, makes it fit for ending a dance of death.

Wunderlich's model is thus contradicted by all our witnesses: Frölich, Der Todendantz, Iselin and Merian.

What are we to conclude then? Not much. Logically the painter should be the very last dancer, looking back and contemplating his work. Nonetheless all our oldest witnesses agree that the dance ended with child, mother, painter and Turk. Thus the Turk must have been a later addition than the painter, which is at odds with the fact that there was only 9 years from Hans Kluber's renovation in 1568 to Iselin's manuscript from 1577. This leads to the bold conclusion that there was a painter in the dance long before Kluber's renovation, and that Klauber has simply replaced the name and face of this painter with his own.

In the same way there's no denying a certain similarity between Frölich's woodcut og Merian's etching (the unicorn and the placement of Adam's hand), which leads to another bold conclusion, namely that it was Frölich's woodcut, that inspired Bock to add this scene on the mural during the restauration in 1616.

The Eight Verses

Here follows the text from Merian's book:

SEcht hie der Spiegel(5) aller Welt,
Der uns darumb wird fürgestellt,
Daß wir Anfang, Mittel und End,
Betrachten fleissig und behend.

DEr Anfang in dem Paradeiß,
Was herrlich, voll Lob, Ehr und Preiß:
Darauff folgt bald der leidig Fahl,
Und stürtzt uns in solch Jammerthal.

DAs die wir sonsten sollen seyn,
Unsterblich, schön und Engelrein:
Die wir auch uber groß und klein,
Der G'schöpffen GOttes in gemein.

SOlten herrschen vernünfftiglich,
Und alles besitzen ewiglich,
Sind leyder GOtt erbarms zumahl,
In Sünd verderbt ohn Maß und Zahl.

DIe Kron und Scepter war verlorn,
Und sahen nichts dann GOttes Zorn,
Darauff der grausam Todt so g'schwind,
Erwürget alle Menschen-Kind.

ALl's was da lebt gleich wie das Kraut,
Mit seiner Sensen niederhawt,
Niemand so groß und herrlich war,
Den er nicht fasste bey dem Haar.

UNd schleusst ihn in das Grab hinein,
Da muß eins jeden Tantzplatz seyn,
Nun aber ist der Todt auch g'storben,
Und haben wir den Sieg erworben.

DUrch Christi Todt und Höllenfahrt,
Der unser jetzt im Himmel wart,
Und ist der Todt in Schlaff verkehrt,
Der uns nun willkomm lieb und werth.

Mit stiller Stund, gehn wir zu Grund.

Many of the reprints of copies of Merian in the 19th century included only two of the eight verses. There are two different English versions. One is used in books published by C.F.Beck, and the other by Fuchs, Stuckert and Schneider.

English translation from C.F.Beck

See this world-mirror, 'tis a show,
Prepared and giv'n, that we may know
Beginning, end, and all between,
And lay 'to heart things yet unseen.

In Paradise man's first estate
Was glorious, blessed, good and great;
But soon alas! the dreadful fall
Brought Death and sorrow on us all.

    The hour glides by
    We All must die.

Fuchs, Stuckert and Schneider

Such the fate of human kind,
Life's beginning and life's end,
All of us let duly mind,
And to God our souls commend!

Tho' glorious first in Paradise
And full of grace and favour,
Yet Adam fell through the fiend's device,
But Christ has come his saviour.

Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Adam and Eve
Merian (1700)
Merian 1700: Adam and Eve
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Adam and Eve
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Adam and Eve
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Adam and Eve
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Adam and Eve
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Adam and Eve

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Büchel writes:

Entlich machet der Bauer den völligen Beschluß des Todten-Tanzes, hinder demselben stehnde zu Merians Zeiten gedachter Hans Hug Klauber der Mahler, welcher sich selbsten samt seinem Weib und Kindern anhin abgeschildert hatte. Er starb im Jahr 1578. seines Alters 42 Jahr. Um den Platz wo er gestanden, wiederum außzufüllen, hat man die Vorstellung deß Paradieses, wie es der Anschein muthmaßen läßt, weiter auseinandergerückt.

(Quoted from Maßmann's Die Baseler Todtentänze in Getreuen Abbildungen, page 117, Stuttgart 1847)

  "Die gantze Länge des Todtentantses (sagt Büchel vom Klingenthaler) samt dem Beinhaus haltet 70 zwei Schritt, der auf dem Prediger-Kirchbofe haltet 80 gemeine Schritt."

 Eben so steigerten sich die Groß-Baseler Gestalten, die aber sammtlich etwas höher erscheinen. Büchel hat hier gleichfalls bemerkt: "Was nun die Figuren anbelangt, so sind solche von ungleicher Größe, die Ersten bei der Vorstellung des Beinhauses, so Kluber gemahlt hat, sind 4 F. 3 Zoll, die folgenden meistens 5 und die letzteren welche Adam und Eva vorstellen 5½ hoch."

 "Die ganze Länge des Todtentanzes (setzt Büchel hinzu) haltet 192 Schuh;" an andrer Stelle sagt er: "der auf dem Prediger-Kirchhof haltet 80 gemeine Schritt;" vom Klein-Baseler aber sagt er: "die ganze Länge des Todtentantzes samt dem Beinhaus haltet 70 gemeine Schritt," d. i. 140 Schuh oder Fuß. Dieser war viel enger zusammengedrangt im Raume.

(Quoted from Maßmann's Die Baseler Todtentänze in Getreuen Abbildungen, page 41, Stuttgart 1847) Note, that Maßmann assumes that 70 "gemeine Schritt" (in Kleinbasel) equals 140 feet.

Burckhardt-Biedermann compares Merian's and Büchel's pictures of Paradise thusly:

Vergleichen wir diese Merian'schen Bilder mit den von Emanuel Büchel im Jahr 1773 aufgenommenen, so ergiebt sich, daß die Uebermalungen von 1658 und 1703 kaum noch in unbedeutenden Einzelheiten etwas veränderten. Nur das allerletzte Bild, der Sündenfall, erscheint bei Büchel in die Breite gezogen und verändert und hat die beiden ihm zunächst vorangehenden Gruppen des Malers und der Malerin (Kind und Mutter) verdrängt. Denn während bei Merlans "Paradies" der Baum mit der Schlange noch zwischen den Ureltern steht, der Löwe hinter Adam, das Einhorn hinter Eva und rechts von ihr der Papagei erscheint: sitzt nun bei Büchel der Papagei zwischen dem Paare auf einem Strauch, ist der Baum mit der Schlange seitwärts rechts neben Eva gerückt und noch weiter hinaus der stehende Löwe; links von Adam steht ein Adler mit ausgebreiteten Flügeln und zu äußerst links, in weiter Entfernung, ruht, die übrige Gruppe betrachtend, das Einhorn. Das Bild erscheint bei Büchel etwa dreimal so breit als hoch.

Th. Burckhardt-Biedermann in Ueber die Basler Todtentänze, 1876, revised 1881.

Uli Wunderlich. . .: in the article "Ein Bild Verändert sich. Die Bedeutung der neuentdeckten Gouachen für die Rekonstruktion des Basler Totentanzes."
der Spiegel aller Welt. . .: Check the page about the dance of death as a mirror.