vo Schöffer of Mainz published the Greek text of The New Testament in Mainz in 1532: »Novum testamentum ab Erasmo Rotendamo novissime recognitum« (VD16 ZV 1918). This book contains a lot of small historiated initials, and towards the end come two initials with a dance of death (pictures to the left and right).
Three years later, in 1535, Shöffer published »Der Römischen Keyser Historien« (VD16 T 20), which contains even more initials and among these is a monk (to the left).
Here is a selection of the other initials:
Francis Douce writes about a single initial letter:
In Vol. II. p. 118 (misprinted 208) of Steinwich's "Bibliothecæ
Ecclesiasticæ." Colon. Agrip. 1599, folio. There is a single initial
letter V only, which may have been part of an alphabet with a Dance of
Death. The subject is Death and the queen. The size nearly an inch square.
(Francis Douce, 1833, The Dance of Death, p. 220)
Douce is right: In the book »Bibliothecæ Ecclesiasticæ« by Cornelius Schulting from Steinwich / Steenwijk published in 1599 in Agrippinensium (= Cologne) om page 118 (misprinted as 208) we find the V shown to the right. Whether it represents a young woman or a queen I'll leave to others to decide.
But the story starts long before 1599. Namely 65 years earlier; and in another city.
Jordan's greatest achievement was as a subcontractor of the bigger printer Peter Quentel in Cologne: to print Dietenberger's Bible: »Biblia beider Allt unnd Newen Testamenten«. This Bible from the spring of 1534 was the Catholic comeback to Luther's German Bible, which was published a little later the same year.
The Bible was handsomely decorated with engravings by Sebald Beham, in fact this series of 80 images was even expanded with two new ones featuring Samson,(1) and Jordan laced the text with a myriad of small alphabets in the same style as Schöffer's: Images from The Old Testament, the life of Jesus, putti, humans and a few scenes from dances of death.
Here are some other of Jordan's initials:
curious detail is that even though Jordan had only a few initials with dances of death, two of them were a V (pictures to the left and right). The one to the left is the one Douce reported.
Things didn't go too well for Jordan economically, and the following year he gave up on his career as a printer. His last work was »Predige Euangelischer warheit vber all Euangelien«. After that he left Mainz, and in 1540 at the latest he settled down in Cologne.
The Dietenberger-Bible became quite widespread and was printed by Quentel in many versions, but it was only the version from 1534 that included Beham's engravings and the many small initials. The two extra images of Samson disappeared shortly after.(2)
The picture to the left shows Peter Jordan's printer's mark: Two arms holding a stone over an hourglass on a flying globe. The motto goes: »Das fliegende Glück / Leßt nit seyn dück«; the image is reminiscent of The escutcheon of Death by Holbein.
Let us finish with the initial to the right: The book is »En Tibi Nunc Iterum Candide Lector, Coelestium Rerum Disciplinae« printed by Peter Jordan for Quentel in 1535. What's going on in the background?
Footnotes: (1) (2)
Beham's Bible series was all new and had been published in 1533/34. The series included a scene with Samson tearing a lion apart (which coincidentally was also the printer's mark of Quentel), and one of Samson dislodging the pillars of the temple.
Two new scenes were created for Dietenberger's Bible: One of Samson carrying the gates of the city and one of Samson and Delilah. These were executed by a lesser hand.
In an even later edition from 1587 by Quentel's heirs a new set of copies were used, and in these copies were included the scenes with the city gates and Delilah. Furthermore an image was added with Samson killing 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass.
Beham's engravings were from the beginning used in Egenolphus' Bible in Frankfurt. In later editions of Egenolphus' Bible (1551), Beham's original engravings had been supplemented with new ones. The stories of Samson had been expanded with the two scenes (city gates and Delilah) and yet another scene, where Samson uses foxes to set the Philistines' fields on fire.