irckmann's heirs published the woodcuts in 1555 (Arnold Birckmann had died in 1542).
To the left is the front page from a later issue, which
sports Birckmann's logo: a fat hen in front of a tree.
The tree is a birch tree, of course,
and the fat hen is an allusion to Birckmann's address in Cologne on a street called zo vetterhennen
(since 1816 the name of the street has been Unter Fettenhennen).
The artist / woodcarver is unknown, but five of the woodcuts
judge, old woman and blind man)
bear a cutter's mark in the form of a capital, italic A or
maybe it's conjoined S and A:
Some think this mark belongs to Antonius Sylvius,
while others point at Arnaud Nicolai.
The book was reprinted by Birckmann's heirs in 1555,
1556, 1557, 1558, 1560, 1566, 1567, 1572, 1573,
1574, 1655 and 1657.
Maybe it's the great number of re-issues
that has given the book so much influence.
The later so popular artists, Kieser, Valvasor,
Hollar and Deuchar have in very high degree copied Birckmann.
In the German editions
from 1560 and 1573 the same woodcut was used for abbess and nun.
In 1572 the nun had her old woodcut back.
Most of these editions were in Latin, but in 1557
came "Der Todtendantz, durch alle Stende" with German
text by Caspar Scheit from Worms.
Caspar Scheit had written the introduction and epilogue. For each woodcut he wrote
a verse with 6 lines (the last two cuts got 8 lines each).
In 1558 the book was translated into Low German, "De Dodendantz dorch alle stende",
and in 1560 "Der Todtendantz" was republished.
Strangely, these three German editions do not indicate the name of the publisher, nor of the city
— neither a birch tree nor a fat hen.
In these German books, the nobleman was called knight, and vice versa.
In the Low German version (1558) the woodcut of the old man was used for illustrating the blind man, and vice versa.
In the High German books (1560 and 1573)
the woodcut of the abbess was also used for illustrating the nun
(picture to the left and right) —
while the duchess, noblewoman and countess were mixed up.
The latter means that in the 1560-edition the countess is confusingly called
»Die zwey liebhabenden« (the two lovers).
Birckmann and Kieser
berhard Kieser has not copied Birckmann's woodcuts. His woodcuts
are copies of Holbein's woodcuts, except
for the 7 that are copies of Aldegrever.
The High German text by Caspar Scheit, however, is copied from Birckmann's books.
Birckmann, Valvasor, Hollar, Deuchar and Wildridge
Birckmann's woodcuts became very popular and were often copied.
The print of the bishop is the one that clearest show who copied whom.
Holbein lets sun set over a hilltop.
Birckmann lets — presumably — the sun set over a lake,
but the mirror image is all wrong. Valvasor copies Birckmann with the bad mirror image.
Hollar copies Birckmann but fixes the image so the mirror image is bigger and placed
correctly. Deuchar copies Hollar with the correct mirror image.
In 1816 the worn-down plates for Hollar's etchings are "freshened up", and faces are added to the suns.
Wildridge copies the two suns with their faces, so it's no longer apparent
that it's supposed to be a mirror image in a lake.
The confusion is total. Small wonder the congregation are running bewildered away.
Holbein (original): The sun over the hill
Birckmann (mirrored) adds a little sun in the lake
Valvasor copies the little sun
Hollar makes the sun look like a real mirror reflection
Deuchar (mirrored) copies Hollar
Hollar 1816 is "improved", so the suns get faces
Wildridge copies the "improved" etching with faces
Birckmann and Hollar
Birckmann 1555: Fool
irckmann's pictures often deviate from Holbein's original woodcuts. He doesn't share Holbein's taste for heavy, dramatic clouds,
but he's fond of adding buildings in the background,
and he tries to include Death's hourglass in those scenes where Holbein has "forgotten" it.
Curiously enough, he is often followed by Hollar.
Birckmann: Death attacks with an arrow instead of a bone.
One may wonder why Hollar copies Birckmann's copy instead of going directly to the source and use
Holbein's originals. It has been suggested that maybe Hollar couldn't afford the genuine Holbein-prints
and therefore had to make do with a copy of Birckmann's inferior prints.
This explanation fails to account for why
Hollar has in many other cases ignored Birckmann's changes and copied Holbein:
So Hollar was quite familiar with Holbein's originals and had access to them.
A much more obvious explanation then
— and one that will probably pain many art connoisseurs —
is that Hollar in many cases has consciously preferred Birckmann's changes.
This wouldn't be a unique case: Eberhard Kieser
normally follows Holbein's originals very closely, but he has also had access to the 8 plates in
Aldegrever's dance of death, and in 7 out of 8 times, he has preferred
Aldegrever's copy to Holbein — just like Hollar in 20 out of 30 cases prefer Birckmann's copies
to Holbein's originals.
Birckmann and Valvasor
anez Vajkard Valvasor published his copy of Holbein's dance of death in 1682.
Valvasor seems to be even fonder of Birckmann than Hollar was.
Hollar had chosen to copy some of the pictures (e.g. The Creation) from Holbein, but
even in these cases, Valvasor prefers Birckmann to Holbein.
Do we know if
Valvasor has even looked at Holbein's original woodcuts? Well, Valvasor's picture
of the Expulsion doesn't look like Birckmann,
but then again it's not a close copy of Holbein either.
Birckmann and Deuchar
The fat hen
ll of Hollar's 30 copperplates were copied by Deuchar.
Deuchar follows Hollar's plates closely,
except when he introduces some changes of his own invention — for instance in the preacher, where Deuchar
follows neither Holbein nor Hollar, but instead gives Death a small bone in his hand.
This makes Deuchar a Birckmann-copyist twice removed.
Hollar: Death behind the preacher has empty hands.
But the weird part is that Deuchar
has 46 plates in his dance of death, i.e. 16 plates more than Hollar has.
And when one looks at these extra plates (where Deuchar has not copied Hollar),
then it looks as if Deuchar consequently has chosen to copy Birckmann instead of Holbein:
Not a single one of Deuchar's 16 additions
indicate that he has ever looked at Holbein's original woodcuts, and this is deeply ironic, since Holbein is the only artist
(except Deuchar himself, of course),
who's credited anywhere in the book.
Birckmann and the unknown English artist
Later, an unknown English artist made at least 11 woodcuts in a dance of death series
that was published by Tindall Wildridge.
He has evidently copied the 1816-edition of Hollar (see the example with the bishop above).
This means that he has followed the Birckmann-variations some 300 years after the first issue.
This unknown artist, who has copied Birckmann twice or thrice removed,
is a testament to the influence Birckmann's variations has had in Europa for many hundreds of years.