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 woodcuts 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.
In 1538, the same year that the Brothers Trechsel published Holbein's dance of death for the first time, they also published The Old Testament copiously illustrated with woodcuts. The first picture was the Creation, which was taken from the dance of death (to the left).
Still in the same year, the illustrations for The Old Testament were published separately under the name Historiarum veteris instrumenti Icones ad vivum expressae. This time the first 4 scenes from the dance of death were included. Not just the Creation, but also Temptation and Fall, the Expulsion from Paradise and Life After the Fall.
There was still no mention of Holbein, but this was to change the next year, when the Bible-illustrations were published again under the slightly altered name: "Historiarum veteris testamenti". By this time, Gilles Corrozet had written a quatrain for each woodcut — the same person who is believed to have written the quatrains for "Les Simulachres & historiees" (the picture to the right is from the 1547-edition).
What is more to the point is that there had now been added a preface by Holbein's good friend Nicolaus Bourbon in the form of a poem. Bourbon 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 propè nulla fecit«. Bourbon repeated the name for good measure: »quã pinxerit HANSVS HOLBIVS ille artis gloria prima suæ« […] »His Hansi tabulis repræsentantur«.
After having praised Holbein for almost two pages, Bourbon switched to the Greek language: Ω ξεν ιδείν έιδωλα θέλεις έμπνοίσιν ομοϊα; Ολβιακής έργον δέρκεο τύτο χερός. And he finished by translating this elegiac distich into Latin: »Cernere uis, hospes simulacra simillima uiuis / Hoc opus Holbinæ nobile cerne manus«.
As can bee seen, Bourbon doesn't leave much doubt that the Bible-cuts are by Holbein, and these 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.