he many editions of Les Simulachres & historiees faces de la Mort vary concerning title, number of woodcuts, subtitles, language — and which books they are bundled together with (even in 1538, 41 small pictures was too little to fill an entire volume). The only thing the various editions have in common is that the artist behind the woodcut is anonymous.
Both the alphabet and the dance of death were published without Holbein's name. This convinced Francis Douce that Holbein was not the originator of the works. But in spite of Douce's immense learning and erudition he was able to persuade few if any scholars. The reasons everybody else point at Holbein and Lützelburger are:
The woodcutter Hans Lützelburger had written his name on many of the printers' proofs of the alphabet (to the right): »HAnns Lützelburger / formschnider / genant Franck«.
Hans Lützelburger has carved his initials, HL, on the duchess' bed.
The Dance of Death Alphabet and the Great Dance of Death are so similar in theme and detail that it's natural to assume they were made by the same artist.
Both the alphabet and the Great Dance of Death are of so masterly quality that it's easier to believe they were made by the same artist, than to assume two equally gifted artists.
The Trechsel Brothers not only published the dance of death, but also an Old Testament with woodcuts by Holbein. It was no secret that Holbein had designed the woodcuts for The Old Testament, and in some of the Bibles and picture books, the Trechsel brothers used the pictures of Creation, Temptation and Fall, the Expulsion from Paradise and Life After the Fall from the dance of death.
Let us look at two examples of the latter:
In 1538, the same year that the Trechsel Brothers published Holbein's dance of death for the first time, they also published The Old Testament illustrated by Holbein. The first picture was the Creation, which was taken from the dance of death (to the left).
In 1547 the woodcuts from The Old Testament were published separately — along with some didactic poems under the name Historiarum Veteris Testamenti. Here the publisher included the 4 woodcuts from the dance of death. To the right are The Creation and The Expulsion from Paradise.
In the preface to the Bible-cuts, Holbein's good friend Nicolaus Bourbon wrote a poem, where he shamelessly compared Holbein to the great masters of Antiquity. In Elysium, Apelles is bewailing to Parrhasius and Zeuxis, the living painter, by whom their fame is now perfectly eclipsed. Holbein is his name: »Holbius est homini nomen, qui nomina nostra Obscura ex claris ac propč nulla fecit«.
The Bible-cuts show great similarities with the dance of death. Notice how the artist portrays children, sheep (see the bishop), fools (see the abbess), plant stalks (see the old woman), waves (see the sailors) and smoke (see the child). Compare also Job with the beggar and King Ahasuerus' lily-decorated canopy with the king's.