Dance of death alphabets in Augsburg

Heinrich Steiner, I, Hertugen
Augsburg, Steiner I

Francis Douce writes about different dance of death alphabets after Holbein:

They were badly copied, and with occasional variations, for books printed at Strasburg by J. Schott about 1540. Same size as the originals. The same initials were used by Henry Stainer of Augsburg in 1530.
(Francis Douce, 1833, The Dance of Death, p. 216)

Douce's allusion to "Henry Stainer" is not very helpful. I have only succeeded in tracking down a single example of a dance of death initial by Heinrich Steiner / Hainrich Stayner / Heinricus Silicius — viz. the one to the right. The woodcut is a close copy of Holbein's I, but not very clearly printed. I have chosen a coloured version, since the black and white ones are too crabbed.

Philipp Ulhart, A, the ossuary
Augsburg, Ulhart A
Philipp Ulhart, C, the emperor
Augsburg, Ulhart C

On the other hand Douce has overlooked the printer Philipp Ulhart, who for about 10 years spiced up his books with a dance of death alphabet.

To the left is the initial letter A, which is clearly a copy of Holbein's A. To the right is the emperor and just like on Holbein's C the emperor has lost his sword and orb, while being dragged away by two cadavers.

Philipp Ulhart, D, the king
Augsburg, Ulhart D
Philipp Ulhart, E, the cardinal
Augsburg, Ulhart E

D and E are the king and the cardinal. They don't seem to be inspired by Holbein's letters, except for the very fact that the artist has chosen a king and a cardinal.

Philipp Ulhart, G, the queen
Augsburg, Ulhart G
Philipp Ulhart, I, the duke
Augsburg, Ulhart I

G is the queen, and just like on Holbein's G she is sitting down while the cadaver to the right tugs her necklace. The cadaver to the left plays the lute instead of a fife.

The I is only a pale imitation, but one can stil recognize the duke by his fur collar, and by the fact that he turns his back to Death while clasping his hands.

Philipp Ulhart, N, the usurer
Augsburg, Ulhart N
Philipp Ulhart, P, the soldier
Augsburg, Ulhart P

The usurer (to the left) is the one who looks least like Holbein's initial letters. Normally the usurer is sitting behind his desk, while everybody else is dancing around. One can recognize him because he wears the same hat and same skirt as on Holbein's N.

The P is a soldier who is dueling with Death although Holbein's P is a lot more dramatic.

Philipp Ulhart, V
Augsburg, Ulhart V
Philipp Ulhart, Z, Judgment Day
Augsburg, Ulhart Z

The V isn't very reminiscent of Holbein's initial either, where the man is riding a horse. One can still see the similarity with Death coming from behind with a flowing cape. This flowing cape would be out of place, unless the artist had copied a woodcut where Death and his victim were riding.

The series ends with Z and Judgment Day just like Holbein's Z. It should be noted though, that Ulhart also possessed initial letters from a Biblical series (A for Adam & Eve, and D for Cain & Abel), so strictly speaking we don't know which series this Z belongs to.

Steiner I
Augsburg 1532: Steiner I
Ulhart A
Augsburg 1536: Ulhart A
Ulhart C
Augsburg 1545: Ulhart C
Ulhart D
Augsburg 1537: Ulhart D
Ulhart E
Augsburg 1534: Ulhart E
Ulhart G
Augsburg 1535: Ulhart G
Ulhart I
Augsburg 1545: Ulhart I
Ulhart N
Augsburg 1536: Ulhart N
Ulhart P
Augsburg 1537: Ulhart P
Ulhart V
Augsburg 1536: Ulhart V
Ulhart Z
Augsburg 1545: Ulhart Z

Resources

Other alphabets


Up to dance of death alphabets