Francis Douce, Reprint from 1858

On the page about Francis Douce I write that the woodcuts from Holbein's dance of death that you'll find on the Net, in fact very often are copies produced for Douce's famous book from 1833 and — probably — executed by Bonner & Byfield.

But this is not entirely correct. To be precise, the popular images are scanned from Austin Dobson's book, "The dance of death by Hans Holbein" from 1892. Dobson wrote in the preface about these woodcuts: »these of Messrs. Bonner and John Byfield have one incontestable advantage : they are honest attempts to repeat by the same method, that is, in wood, the original and incomparable woodcuts of Hans Lutzelburger«.

Nevertheless a closer inspection reveals that Dobson has employed woodcuts from a later edition of Douce, and that three of these woodcuts are not the same as in the 1833-edition.

Take a look at the usurer/miser. To the left is the woodcut from 1833, juxtaposed with a woodcut from a later edition. If one switches between the two images (picture to the right), the whole scene begins to dance. There are literally hundreds of differences. The fingers on the usurer's hand, the stones in the window frame, Death's arm, Death's face, the chair behind the man, etc.

If one moves the gaze to the bottom half of the picture, which is less interesting, and to which the artist has paid less attention, the objects become alive as in an old Betty Boop carton from the 30ies: Coffers, sacks, tablecloth and locks are leaping back and forth. You almost expect Koko the Clown to show up and start singing any moment.

Usurer, 1833
Usurer, 1896
1833 combined with 1896


The same is true for the senator. Notice in particular the beard on the gentleman to the left, the beggar's face, Death's foot and the windows in the top, right corner-

Senator 1833
Senator, 1896
1833 combined with 1896


Finally there's the countess. Notice in particular Death's swaying hips, the persons' location relative to the background, the objects on the table and the shape of the maid's bonnet.

Countess, 1833
Countess, 1896
1833 combined with 1896


These three woodcuts replace the originals from the 1833-edition. A final change has been made to the bishop: The woodcut is indeed the same, but it has been changed, so that the solar corona is greater and some of the sun rays have been removed.

Bishop, 1833
Bishop, 1896
1833 combined with 1896


As far as I know no one has previously noticed these changes — Austin Dobson clearly didn't know. Therefore, it is not possible to answer, who executed the three new woodcuts for the 1858 edition. Douce died in 1834, Bonner died in 1836, and Byfield in all probability died around the same time.

These woodcuts are very popular and are to be found all over the Net, but the artist who copied Bonner & Byfield's copies of Holbein is unknown.

The version from 1858 was edited by Henry G. Bohn. His editing was rather heavy-handed: He bound Douce's book together with another book of Holbein's woodcuts from the Old Testament. This new book was titled »Holbein's Dance of Death Exhibited in Elegant Engravings on Wood«, and Douce must have turned in his grave, because he had all his life refused to believe, it was Holbein, who had created the dance of death. Douce's original title was »The Dance of Death, […] more particularly on those ascribed to Macaber and Hans Holbein«.

Read more about this book from 1858 and how it included a dance of death alphabet.

Douce reprint 1858: Bishop
Douce reprint 1858: Senator
Douce reprint 1858: Usurer
Douce reprint 1858: Countess


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 de 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)

The miser too was different in the 1833-version.
Douce, Rich man
The 1858-version also contained a copy of Holbein's dance of death alphabet.
Douce Alphabet, Douce: A