This manuscript is one out of three copies of count von Zimmern's Vergänglichkeitsbuch. It is the most complete of the three,(1) the most lavish, and to top it all off, it is available online.
The book contains 119 miniatures painted with opaque colour by a professional painter. The painter and the scribe are unknown, of course, but a note has been pasted on page 119v with the scribe wishing his readers an enduring good health and signed "B.D.". On the last page of the book, the same initials appear once more, this time in red ink: »A.S.L.V. / B.D. / Aderit sors laetior olim«.
Cosacchi(2) interprets ASLV as "Anno salutis 55", and believes the book must have been produced in (15)55. However, this is far from certain, and most experts think the book is a bit newer than this.
The dance of death section consists of 42 scenes, i.e. one more than in Zimmern's dance of death and in Der Doten Dantz mit Figuren. This is because there are two merchants.
The dance mostly follows Zimmern's dance of death. However, the images are generally less detailed due to the opaque colour.
Two examples indicate that the painter has not quite understood what it was all about. In Count Zimmern's picture of the thief, Death points towards the gallows looming in the background. However, in Donaueschingen 123 the gallows has been moved towards the edge (picture to the left), so Death is waving his hand in the air.
The same happens with Zimmern's version of all ranks: Death points towards the cemetery, where they will all soon end up. In Donaueschingen 123 the cemetery has been moved down (picture to the right) so once again Death is waving his hand in the air.(3)
In Count Zimmern's dance of death the role of the count was taken by Count Zimmern himself holding a flag with his escutcheon. However, in the Donaueschingen 123 Count Zimmern gives way to Holbein's count. Death holds a shield but this doesn't bear any resemblance to Zimmern's escutcheon (picture to the left).
The image of the bearded Count Zimmern being lead away by Death holding a lute with a right-angled pegbox has instead been used for the mayor (picture to the right).
The fact that Count Zimmern has disappeared from the dance probably shows that he has not participated in the production of this book. Since the coat of arms has also disappeared, the book was probably not produced for the count's immediate relatives.
The dance goes on, but there is a mistake with the evil monk (illustrated with Holbein's monk) and the hermit / brother, since the scribe has interchanged their dialogues.
The merchant (to the left) is Holbein's merchant). A little later (page 119v) comes the usurer, who is illustrated with Holbein's rich man / usurer), but there is no text: The following page is blank.
The comes the robber, and then another merchant (picture to the right), who is a copy of Zimmern's usurer. At the top of this page is affixed the note mentioned before, which is signed "B.D.". This scene is allotted two new, eight-lined verses, even though all verses in Zimmern's dance of death consistently has 14 lines.
The next page is blank and then comes, slightly delayed, the text of the usurer.
Of the 42 images in the dance, exactly half, 21,(4) are copies of Holbein's dance of death instead of Zimmern's dance of death.
The nun (to the left) has been illustrated with Holbein's abbess, perhaps because Holbein's nun was kneeling indoor, so this image is not suitable for a dance.
The emperor to the right is Holbein's emperor, while Death, standing with a trumpet and a flag with the imperial eagle, is from Zimmern's dance of death and Der Doten Dantz mit Figuren.
The hermit / brother is Holbein's old man, although he has received a rosary and an axe.
This raises the question of which version of Holbein the artist has used. All the 21 scenes are among those in the first edition of Holbein. Later editions would include Holbein's robber and gambler, but they were not used in Donaueschingen 123.
Out of the 21 Holbein-copies, 14 have been laterally inverted, and that's puzzling. It is quite normal for images to be mirrored when copied as a woodcut or engraving, but not when copied as a drawing or painting.
This could indicate that the painter did not use Holbein's original woodcuts, but instead one of the many copies, where some of the motifs had been mirrored. However, it is impossible to answer what book it might be that has exactly this combination of mirrored images.
The images are in the same sequence as in Donaueschingen 123.
Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4)