Zimmern's Dance of Death and its copies

Count Zimmern's "Vergänglichkeitsbuch" — i.e. "Book of Transience", was a richly illustrated and very personal work.

It is therefore surprising that someone has wanted to copy it. And yet this has happened no less than three times. In the latter half of the 16th century three unknown persons paid a fortune each to have professional writers and painters copy this book with the count's portraits, poems, and coat of arms, including pictures of the count in a pious prayer with his wife, who died in 1521, and the count's brother's grave slab from 1548.

Thus, there are four variants of Zimmern's Book of Transience:

Berlin Cod. 78 A 19


This book has rarely been available to researchers, so we have to settle for the description that Ernst Heiss gave in 1901 (see external link).

According to Heiss, the book is a very accurate copy in happy colors in partly washed and partly opaque colours. Heiss reproduces four small, blurry images (three of which are from the dance of death), and at least it's correct, that the image on page 27 (left) is completely similar to Count Zimmern's canon, while the image on page 30 (to the right) is identical to Zimmern's armour-bearer.

In contrast there is something wrong with the picture on page 41, which looks suspiciously like the mayor from Donaueschingen 123. On the whole, Heiss's book is a mess, and he consistently refers to Holbein's dance of death as Gross-Basel. Heiss spends a lot of time describing an "imagines mortis", which he thinks can be seen in 25 of the pictures in the first third of these books, but I am unable to find half of the pictures he describes, and those that can be found come in a completely different order. Furthermore, Heiss apparently ignores here that we are dealing with a collection of very different texts.

Nürnberg Hs 86321

The dance-house
Nürnberg, Dance house
Nürnberg, Usurer

This book has been unknown for a long time. Ernst Heiss (1901) and Susanne Warda (2011) are unaware of it.

The book contains pen and wash drawings in strong colours, and is a faithful copy of Count Zimmern's book. The various scrolls are left empty, so on the picture of Death in front of the ossuary, it's not clear that the grave belongs to Count Zimmern's brother, John.

Unfortunately a great number of pages are lacking - for instance the first 46 leaves, which once included the "Spiegelbuch", are missing, and many pages are torn at the bottom.

There are 38 scenes for the dance of death, since the page with the child is missing, and only little remains of the knight and the nobleman. A big part is missing of the citizeness' Death.

See the external link.

Donaueschingen 123

The unprepared dead
Donaueschingen, The unprepared dead
All ranks
Donaueschingen, All ranks

In this case it's a magnificent volume executed by a professional painter. In addition, we are in the fortunate situation that the book is available online.

Therefore there's a separate page about Donaueschingen 123.

Go forth

Read much more about Donaueschingen 123.


Further Information