Heinrich Lödel was born in 1798 in Hamelin and when twenty-one he moved to Göttingen. Here he made a living producing copperplates and woodcuts.
He copied Holbein's peddler (picture to the right), and this contributed so to impress count Raczynski that Lödel was commissioned to produce several copies for the count's books about modern German art. And not only was Lödel hired to make facsimiles of other artists, but the count wrote about him:
Loedel, from Göttingen, is the one of all German wood cutters,
whose services satisfy me the most. The first volume contains little of him,
but in the second I have presented to my readers ten of his works;
these are the woodcuts on the pages 183, 189, 258, 269,
272, 298, 322, 340, 342; among which the pp. 258, 322, and 340,
in my opinion, are the most beautiful.
(Atanazy Raczynski, Geschichte der neueren deutschen Kunst, page 147)(1)
He worked in 1842 in Dresden, designing paper bills, "Tresorscheine", for the royal Saxon ministry of finance, and during this year he spent all his leisure time on copying Holbein's dance of death alphabet from a so-called "printer's proof" located in Dresden's Kupferstich-Kabinett.
Back in Göttingen this resulted in 1849 in the book, »Hans Holbein's Initial-Buchstaben mit dem Todtentanz. Nach Hans Lutzelburger's Original-Holzschnitten im Dresdner Kabinet, zum ersten Mal treu copirt von Heinrich Loedel, mit erläuternden Denkversen und einer geschichtlichen Abhandlung über die Todtentänze, von Dr. Adolf Ellissen«. As the title informs us, Lödel's friend, the philologist Dr. Ellison, had accompanied the 24 images with verses (these were written in the summer of 1847) and a 100-pages historical treatise on dances of death.
The same year, September 1849, Lödel's alphabet was published in Cologne, Bonn and Brussels by Heberle under the title, »Holbenii Pictoris alphabetum mortis: des Malers Hans Holbein Todtentanz-Alphabet«. While the publication in Göttingen could be called secular, this one was more Christian (Catholic). There was no 100-pages scientific article about dances of death, and instead of Dr. Ellison's dry and wry verses, the initial letters were accompanied by translations of Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ. The booklet was equipped with border-illustrations by Georg Osterwald, which were copies from many different sources: Holbein's dance of death, a frontispiece by Thomas Wolff, Holbein's dagger sheath, Hollar's procession etc. This gives the book an appearance not unlike the old books of hours.
The alphabet was also printed on a single sheet (a so-called "printer's proof") along with a copy of Hans Lützelburger's signature (picture to the right). This was published by the publisher/collector/art historian Rudolph Weigel in Leipzig.
In 1856 Lödel's initials were published in Paris along with Léon le Maires copies of Simon Vostre's dance of death and Accidens de l'Homme. This book was published in French (»L' alphabet de la mort de Hans Holbein«), English (»The celebrated Hans Holbein's alphabet of death«) and Italian (»L'alfabeto della morte di Hans Holbein«).
Hans Holbeins Initial-Buchstaben were republished in 1911. This reprint had a new preface by Dr. O.A. Ellissen, son of Adolf Ellissen. It is from this preface I have taken the biographical information.
»LÖDEL, aus Göttingen, ist von allen Deutschen Holzschneidern derjenige, dessen Leistungen mich vorzugsweise befriedigen. Der 1. Band enthält wenig von ihm, im II. aber habe ich meinen Lesern zehn seiner Arbeiten vorgelegt; es sind die Holzschnitte der Seiten 183, 189, 258, 269, 272, 298, 322, 340, 342; unter welchen die auf S. 258, 322 und 340, meiner Meinung nach, die schönsten sind«.