David Deuchar

Deuchar copied Mechel's frontispiece
Deuchar, Frontispiece

D avid Deuchar (1743-1808) had his dance of death published first time in London 1788 (the frontispiece says 1786).

Deuchar shamelessly copied the frontispiece from Christian von Mechel by simply replacing Mechel's name with his own. On the copied frontispiece Deuchar kept the claim that the work was based on the original drawings by Holbein: »Gravé d'apres les Dessins originaux de Jean Holbein«. This claim was suspect already when Mechel made it, since the so-called original Holbein-drawings have later been shown to be the work of the young Peter Rubens. But in Deuchar's case the claim becomes absurd, since nothing indicates that Deuchar has ever looked at anything by Holbein.

The dance from Holbein's dagger scabbard
Deuchar, Scabbard

Deuchar also copied the French letter-press for each plate and added an English translation. Mechel's book had contained 46 plates (including the frontispiece, and excluding the scabbard), and this number was repeated in Deuchar's title: »The dances of death, through the various stages of human life: wherein the capriciousness of that tyrant is exhibited: in the forty-six copper-plates«;

So bottom line is that Deuchar was very dependent on Mechel: He could only bring the same 46 dancers that Mechel had published — and in the same sequence and with the same comments. In some editions Deuchar has added Death's Escutcheon and his very own version of The Creation, but these plates are featured outside the dance and without letter-press. Deuchar also copied Holbein's dagger scabbard, which isn't included in neither Holbein's Simulaches or by any other artist than Mechel (although it's hard to see that it's a scabbard, picture to the right).

Given this dependency, one would assume that the plates for the dance of death were copied from Mechel as well, but this is not the case. Apart from the frontispiece and the dagger Deuchar hasn't copied any scenes from neither Mechel nor Holbein.

Deuchar, Hollar and Birckmann

The castle behind the Empress is far more decorated with Hollar and Deuchar.
Deuchar, Empress

D avid Deuchar has first and foremost copied Hollar, and he didn't content himself with copying Hollar's 30 plates — he also copied the frames from Hollar's book. These 3 frames depict Democritus and Heraclitus, Minerva and Hercules and Time and Eternity. Deuchar added a fourth frame in the same style with a gravedigger and Death (click the links and then the images to see the frames).

Hollar's plates were much inspired by Arnold Birckmann's interpretation of Holbein's work. How can one determine then, whether Deuchar has copied Hollar's copies of Holbein and Birckmann — instead of copying Holbein and Birckmann directly? The easiest way of proving this, is to note that Deuchar has chosen the exact same variants that Hollar had chosen.

In 20 of the 30 pictures, Hollar choses to follow Birckmann instead of Holbein, in 9 cases Hollar prefers Holbein to Birckmann and in a single case he combines elements from them both (see the page about Hollar for details). Every time without fail, Deuchar chooses to follow Hollar. The only exceptions are those where Deuchar follows neither Holbein nor Hollar, but adds some details of his own, for instance when he gives Death behind the preacher a little bone in his hand.

Deuchar misses the hourglass in front of the preacher because Hollar's hourglass was indistinct.
Deuchar, Preacher

Two more examples will show, how Deuchar copies Hollar instead of copying Holbein and Birckmann.

But what is really strange, is that Deuchar has 17 copperplates more than Hollar has, and when one looks at these 17 plates (which couldn't be copied from Hollar), then it looks as if Deuchar is even more Birckmann-o-phile than Hollar was:

Deuchar copies Birckmann's pictures of king, nobleman, canon, judge, senator, priest, astronomer, sailor, knight, duchess, peasant, beggar, drunkard, fool and presumably also the blind man. The Creation is Deuchar's own design. The robber is the same with Holbein and Birckmann (so it's hard to say whether Deuchar has copied Holbein or Birckmann).

There's not in any of Deuchar's 17 additions any hint that he has as much as looked at Holbein. Deuchar has copied 30 pictures from Hollar and 17 pictures from Birckmann. There is no indication that Deuchar has ever seen any of Holbein's original woodcuts. Deuchar has copied Hollar's copies of Birckmann's copies of Holbein.

This is deeply ironic, since Holbein is the only artist mentioned anywhere in Deuchar's book. Neither Mechel, Hollar, Diepenbeeck nor Birckmann are being credited anywhere.

"HB i       DD f"
Deuchar's signature
"David Deuchar fecit"
Deuchar's signatur

Deuchar's plates are signed HB i for "Holbein invenit" and DD f for "David Deuchar fecit" (i.e.: Holbein has invented the design, Deuchar has executed it). At the bottom of the frames it says "David Deuchar fecit".

All in all, Deuchar has 47 of Holbein's woodcuts — only 4 images are lacking: All men's bones, The Last Judgment, young woman and young man. After going through countless reprints, Deuchar's copperplates were published as lithographic reproductions where all details were lost.

The various editions

David Deuchar, self-portrait.
Deuchar, Portrait

A lthough Deuchar's etchings were only published in a few editions, there are great variations.

1788. This first edition was by an unknown publisher in Edinburgh (the frontispiece says 1786). Of the two copies available online, only one has the Diepenbeeck-inspired frames.

Deuchar: Hans Holbein
Deuchar, Hans Holbein

The book contained the image on the left, believed to be a self-portrait. The various symbolic elements in the image (Adam and Eve reaching across the circle, two skeletons (at the edge), three Norns under an arch, two obelisks and a skull at the top) recall the Memento Mori by Andrea Andreani.

The portrait on the right is supposed to represent Hans Holbein. These two portraits as well as The Creation, Death's Escutcheon and the dagger scabbard get no explanations and are not counted among the 46 plates (in contrast to the frontispiece).

Death's Escutcheon
Deuchar, The escutcheon

1803. The two editions were produced by two different printers, namely by S. Gosnell in Little Queen Street and W. Smith in King Street. The vast majority of these editions are without the Diepenbeeck frames.

The vast majority are also without Death's Escutcheon, and the strange thing is that, except for these few exemplars, the Escutcheon of Death is no longer used for Deuchar's books, but instead — and without any explanation — used for several reprints of Wenceslaus Hollar's copies of Holbein.

1811. This is where it gets really weird, because even though all the copies have been printed off John Jackson, they are very different.

The title page no longer says, »in the forty-six copper-plates«, for most of them only have 23 scenes and end with the old woman, which plate is assigned the number XXIII.

A few exemplars have 43 or 46 scenes, and in these the old woman has been assigned numbers XL and XLVI respectively, so we know that there are not just a bunch of pages missing in the other, short editions.

The scene with the Creation, Deuchar's self-portrait and Death's Escutcheon are no longer present. Most of these copies have frames about the plates, and all of them have a short chapter titled: "The dance of Macaber", that explains about the dance of death at St. Paul's Cathedral.

1887: Deuchar's text is erased
Deuchar, Frontispiece

1887. After the books had gone through many editions, they were finally published as lithographic reproductions of the copper plates.

The subtitle is now: »illustrated in forty-eight plates / by John Holbein«, and the 48 should be understood as meaning that the frontispiece is no longer counted, but on the contrary the Creation, the Escutcheon of Death, and the scabbard are included.

The old text on the frontispiece (which Deuchar had copied from Mechel) is erased. In its stead the Latin text that was written below: "Mors sceptra ligonebus [sic] æguat" has been moved up and translated: »Death confounds the sceptre with the spade« (picture to the right).

Links & Resources

Deuchar 1788: Frontispiece
Deuchar 1788: Creation
The Fall
Deuchar 1788: The Fall
Deuchar 1788: Expulsion
After the Fall
Deuchar 1788: After the Fall
The Pope
Deuchar 1788: The Pope
Deuchar 1788: Emperor
Deuchar 1788: King
Deuchar 1788: Cardinal
Deuchar 1788: Empress
Deuchar 1788: Queen
Deuchar 1788: Bishop
Deuchar 1788: Duke
Deuchar 1788: Abbot
Deuchar 1788: Abbess
Deuchar 1788: Nobleman
Deuchar 1788: Canon
Deuchar 1788: Judge
Deuchar 1788: Lawyer
Deuchar 1788: Senator
Deuchar 1788: Preacher
Deuchar 1788: Priest
Deuchar 1788: Monk
Deuchar 1788: Nun
Old woman
Deuchar 1788: Old woman
Deuchar 1788: Physician
Deuchar 1788: Astrologer
Rich man
Deuchar 1788: Rich man
Deuchar 1788: Merchant
Deuchar 1788: Sailor
Deuchar 1788: Knight
Deuchar 1788: Count
Old man
Deuchar 1788: Old man
Deuchar 1788: Countess
Deuchar 1788: Noblewoman
Deuchar 1788: Duchess
Deuchar 1788: Peddler
Deuchar 1788: Peasant
Deuchar 1788: Child
The escutcheon
Deuchar 1788: The escutcheon
Deuchar 1788: Soldier
Deuchar 1788: Waggoner
Deuchar 1788: Gambler
Deuchar 1788: Robber
Blind man
Deuchar 1788: Blind man
Deuchar 1788: Beggar
Deuchar 1788: Drunkard
Deuchar 1788: Fool
Deuchar 1788: Scabbard
Deuchar 1788: Portrait
Hans Holbein
Deuchar 1788: Hans Holbein
Deuchar 1887: Frontispiece
Deuchar 1887: Expulsion
After the Fall
Deuchar 1887: After the Fall
The Pope
Deuchar 1887: The Pope
Deuchar 1887: Emperor
Deuchar 1887: King
Deuchar 1887: Cardinal
Deuchar 1887: Bishop
Deuchar 1887: Duke
Deuchar 1887: Abbess
Deuchar 1887: Nobleman
Deuchar 1887: Judge
Deuchar 1887: Senator
Deuchar 1887: Preacher
Deuchar 1887: Priest
Deuchar 1887: Nun
Old woman
Deuchar 1887: Old woman
Deuchar 1887: Physician
Deuchar 1887: Astrologer
Rich man
Deuchar 1887: Rich man
Deuchar 1887: Merchant
Deuchar 1887: Sailor
Deuchar 1887: Knight
Deuchar 1887: Count
Old man
Deuchar 1887: Old man
Deuchar 1887: Countess
Deuchar 1887: Noblewoman
Deuchar 1887: Duchess
Deuchar 1887: Peasant
Deuchar 1887: Child
The escutcheon
Deuchar 1887: The escutcheon
Deuchar 1887: Soldier
Deuchar 1887: Waggoner
Deuchar 1887: Gambler
Blind man
Deuchar 1887: Blind man
Deuchar 1887: Beggar
Deuchar 1887: Drunkard
Deuchar 1887: Fool

Other interpreters of Holbein's dance of death


Hans Holbein (1526) - so-called proofs
Hans Holbein (1538) - the originals
Heinrich Aldegrever (1541)
Heinrich Vogtherr (1544)
Vincenzo Valgrisi (1545)
Arnold Birckmann (1555)
Juan de Icíar (1555)
Valentin Wagner (1557)
Jiří Melantrich (1563)
Georg Scharffenberg (1576)
Leonhart Straub (1581)
David Chytraeus (1590)
Peter Paul Rubens (ca. 1590)
Fabio Glissenti (1596)
Eberhard Kieser (1617)
Rudolf and Conrad Meyer (1650)
Wenceslaus Hollar (1651)
De doodt vermaskert (1654)
Thomas Neale (1657)
Johann Weichard von Valvasor (1682)
Erbaulicher Sterb-Spiegel (1704)
Salomon van Rusting (1707)
T. Nieuhoff Piccard (1720)
Christian von Mechel (1780)
→ David Deuchar (1788) ←
John Bewick (1789)
Alexander Anderson (1810)
Wenceslaus Hollar (1816)
"Mr. Bewick" (1825)
Ludwig Bechstein (1831)
Joseph Schlotthauer (1832)
Francis Douce (1833)
Carl Helmuth (1836)
Francis Douce (1858, 2. edition)
Henri Léon Curmer (1858)
Tindall Wildridge (1887)
Thy Grief (2022)

Deuchar has copied Mechel's frontispiece.
Mechel, Frontispiece
Deuchar has copied all of Hollar's 30 engravings.
Hollar, Empress
Deuchar has copied the rest of the scenes from Birckmann.
Birckmann, Soldier