Alexander Anderson (1775-1870)

Title page of the 1846 edition
Anderson, Title page
Portrait of Dr. Anderson engraved by himself after a daguerreotype
Anderson, selfportrait

»Emblems of mortality; representing, by numerous engravings, death seizing all ranks and conditions of people. Imitated from a painting in the cemetery of the Dominican church, at Basil, in Switzerland« is an American copy of John Bewick's copy of Holbein. There was at least three editions: 1801, 1810(1) and 1846.

The title of the book repeats the age-old mistake, which probably originated with Georg Scharffenberg: that Holbein should have had anything to do with the dance of death on the cemetery-wall of the Dominican church in Basel.

One cannot blame the American publisher for reiterating the mistake from the English title, but what he can be blamed for, is that he doesn't try to clarify the misunderstanding. Quite on the contrary. The English edition from 1795 has a long, meticulous preface, which wipes out all misunderstandings, but the American publisher uses an extract from this preface, which is so selective and careless, that the reader gets the impression that Holbein's dance of death and Basel's dance of death are one and the same.

Another part of the preface from Bewick's book originally sounded like this: »[…] the Cuts in the present Edition, […] are engraven, and the Verses under them translated from the Latin Edition of 1547; and that the additional Cuts, which appeared in the French Edition of 1562, […] are here also inserted, […]«. That is: Bewick has copied a Latin edition from 1547 and a French edition from 1562. These years are not random, since 1547 was the year that the publisher added soldier, waggoner, gambler, robber, blind man, beggar, drunkard, fool and four boys, while 1562 was the year the young woman, the young man and three additional boys were added.

Anderson, frontispiece
Anderson, frontispiece

In the "extract" of the American 1846-edition, this becomes: »The cuts are engraven, and the verses under them translated, from the Latin edition of 1662«. Bewick's 2 books from 1547 and 1562 have suddenly become a single Latin book from 1662!

Woodcut with the nobleman.
Anderson, block

The publisher also argues in the preface, that »the work will be found uncommonly interesting. It shows the precise costume of the people four centuries since, from the monarch on his throne, to the beggar in his rags«. Maybe it would have been smarter then to re-print Holbein's original woodcuts from 1538, instead of publishing Anderson's copies of Bewick's copies. The publisher is also wrong in asserting that there are four centuries between 1846 and 1538 (not to mention 1662). Evidently he's once again confusing Holbein's dance of death with Basel's dance of death.

It's also stated in the preface that in the 1846-edition »three of the cuts, representing Adam and Eve in various situations, it was thought advisable to omit«. Apparently the naked Adam and Eve didn't live up to the publisher's goal of »showing the precise costume of the people four centuries since«.

The book starts with Anderson's copy of Bewick's picture of Death leading the whole society into the grave (picture to the right). Anderson has carved his cutter's mark, AA, inside the grave. Then follows 46 woodcuts with the Creation, Fall, Life after the Fall, Death's escutcheon and the waggoner missing.

The verses from Bewick's book accompany each picture. The spelling is modernized, but the language remains just as stilted. The publisher has added some explanatory text to each picture.

External Links

Anderson
Anderson 1810: Anderson
Frontispiece
Anderson 1810: Frontispiece
Expulsion
Anderson 1810: Expulsion
Bones of All Men
Anderson 1810: Bones of All Men
The Pope
Anderson 1810: The Pope
Emperor
Anderson 1810: Emperor
King
Anderson 1810: King
Cardinal
Anderson 1810: Cardinal
Empress
Anderson 1810: Empress
Queen
Anderson 1810: Queen
Bishop
Anderson 1810: Bishop
Duke
Anderson 1810: Duke
Abbot
Anderson 1810: Abbot
Abbess
Anderson 1810: Abbess
Nobleman
Anderson 1810: Nobleman
Canon
Anderson 1810: Canon
Judge
Anderson 1810: Judge
Lawyer
Anderson 1810: Lawyer
Senator
Anderson 1810: Senator
Preacher
Anderson 1810: Preacher
Priest
Anderson 1810: Priest
Monk
Anderson 1810: Monk
Nun
Anderson 1810: Nun
Old woman
Anderson 1810: Old woman
Physician
Anderson 1810: Physician
Astrologer
Anderson 1810: Astrologer
Rich man
Anderson 1810: Rich man
Merchant
Anderson 1810: Merchant
Sailor
Anderson 1810: Sailor
Knight
Anderson 1810: Knight
Count
Anderson 1810: Count
Old man
Anderson 1810: Old man
Countess
Anderson 1810: Countess
Noblewoman
Anderson 1810: Noblewoman
Duchess
Anderson 1810: Duchess
Peddler
Anderson 1810: Peddler
Peasant
Anderson 1810: Peasant
Child
Anderson 1810: Child
Judgement Day
Anderson 1810: Judgement Day
Soldier
Anderson 1810: Soldier
Gambler
Anderson 1810: Gambler
Robber
Anderson 1810: Robber
Blind man
Anderson 1810: Blind man
Beggar
Anderson 1810: Beggar
Drunkard
Anderson 1810: Drunkard
Fool
Anderson 1810: Fool
Young woman
Anderson 1810: Young woman
Young man
Anderson 1810: Young man

Other interpreters of Holbein's dance of death

Footnotes: (1)

The information about the early editions is taken from the foreword of the 1846-edition. These early editions are very rare: Warthin, himself being an American, was unable to track them down:

Apparently there was published in New Haven, Conn., in 1810, an edition of woodcuts, copies from John Bewick's 1789 edition, by Dr. Alexander Anderson, the noted American wood-engraver of his day. The author has been unable to obtain a copy of this edition, and has never seen one. It is not in the British Museum.
(The Physician of the Dance of Death, Aldred Warthin, 1931, page 84)


Up to Holbein's great dance of death