Holbein's Dagger Scabbard

Drawing from Berlin
Dagger sheath by Holbein
Drawing from Basel
Dagger sheath by Holbein

H olbein's first attempt with dances of death was a pen and wash drawing of a dagger sheath. The sheath itself was engraved by Urs Graf and is marked with the year 1521.(1)

If fact there are two versions of this drawing. One of them is stored in Berliner Bauakademie, while the other one in Basler Kunstsammlung is thought to be a (reversed and inferior) copy of the one in Berlin.(2)

Christian de Mechel, first part
Mechel, Scabbard
Christian de Mechel, second part
Mechel, Scabbard

T he drawing in Berliner Bauakademie used to be owned by Mechel, who engraved a copy in copper along with his copies of Rubens' copies of Holbein (see pictures to the left and right).

Douce writes about this copy: »M. Mechel has added another print on this subject, viz, the sheath of a dagger, a design for a chaser. It is impossible to exceed the beauty and skill that are manifested in this fine piece of art«.

Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker
Dagger

A t the death of Christian von Mechel, the drawing was bought by Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth of Berlin (1781-1853).

Beuth published the two-volume work Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker in 1836. The drawing was reproduced for this purpose, and apparently it took three men to produce the copperplate: Johann Samuel Otto, Gustav Lüderitz and Friedrich Wilhelm Schwechten.

Deuchar: Dance from Holbein's scabbard
Deuchar's copy of Holbein's dagger sheath
Woodcut from "The Dance of death exhibited . ."
Dagger sheath by Holbein

T he dagger sheath was copied by David Deuchar (to the left), although you'd have to know it was a dagger sheath to recognize it.

The woodcut to the right is from Francis Douce's book The dance of death exhibited in elegant engravings on wood. It appears to be a woodcut based on Mechel's copperplates.

Gesina ter Borch, copy in ink
Scabbard
Gesina ter Borch, copy in ink
Scabbard

The Dutch Golden Age painter Gesina ter Borch (1633–1690) has copied Holbein's drawing. First as a close copy in ink and then as a more free copy in colour.

Gesina ter Borch, copy in colour
Scabbard
Gesina ter Borch, copy in colour
Scabbard

Holbein has himself used his dagger sheath as inspiration for his later works, the dance of death alphabet (see initials C, D, I, K and O) and Holbein's great dance of death (see monk and soldier).

Further information:

Footnotes: (1) (2)

I have taken this information from A. Woltmann, Holbein und seine Zeit, 1879 page 260, footnote 1. The author mentions several Swiss armour smiths, who have copied Holbein's drawing, and adds: »[…] hier zu einem von Urs Graf gravirten Dolch mit der Jahrzahl 1521 gehörig«.
I'm merely quoting from "Holbein's Totentanz und seine Vorbilder" by Alexander Goette, 1897. The author spends 3 pages arguing why one drawing is inferior to the other.

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