Wenceslaus Hollar, Second Round

Portrait of Hollar from the 1816-edition
Portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar
Reversed copy of Hollar's copy of Holbein's self-portrait
Portrait of Hans Holbein

W enceslaus Hollar published his 30 etchings for the first time in 1651. After a number of editions, dances of death went out of fashion and the plates disappeared for a while.

A hundred years later there was a renewed interest in things medieval. In 1780 Mechel published his etchings "based on the original Holbein-drawings", and in 1788 Deuchar copied Mechel's frontispiece and Hollar's etchings.

Thus the time had become ripe (again) for Hollar's etchings. In 1790 a French version was published, but this book was anonymous, and is it known neither where nor when it was published. From now on the plates were printed without Diepenbeeck's frames.

It has never been clear what happened to the plates in the intervening century. In the preface to the 1794-edition, Francis Douce merely tells us that »The plates, which appear to have been but little used have been till lately preserved in a noble family«.

The prints were republished and rebitten a number of times during the next 20 years. Let us have a look at some of these editions:

Copy of the dance of death procession
The dance of death procession

A long with the 30 engravings came two portraits (see top of this page). The portrait of Hollar bears the faint text »etched by Barlow«, so presumably(1) this is a copy that Francis Barlow (1626? - 1704) has made of Hollar's self-portrait. The other portrait is of Holbein and is a reversed copy of Hollar's copy of Holbein's self-portrait.

Also included was a copy of an engraving of a dance of death procession that Hollar had made for the book »The history of St. Paul's Cathedral in London« in 1658. The copy is close: even Pennington was mistaken. Another copy was made by William Finden in 1818.

The 1816-edition

The bishop with two suns
Hollar 1651: Bishop
1816: The suns now have faces
Hollar coloured 1816: Bishop

A s already mentioned, the 1816-edition included Douce's historical walk-through of dances of death — and as mentioned, Douce tells us that Hollar's plates had been kept by a noble family. He also ensures us they are presented again "without the least alteration": »The plates, which appear to have been but little used, have been till lately preserved in a noble family, and impressions from them are once more presented to the public, without the least alteration*«.

But in the 1816-edition the editor had added a footnote: »In the present edition, however, it was found requisite that the plates should be retouched, and it has been done with the utmost attention to the preservation of their original spirit and character«.

Pillars behind the queen
Hollar: Detail
1816: The pillars are simplified
Hollar 1816: Detail

S o it had been necessary to refresh Hollar's plates. And in spite of the assurances of the editor, it hadn't been totally successful: In general the pictures now appear flat, details have disappeared and faces have become empty masks.

The most obvious change is in the picture of the bishop (above), where the sun and its reflection have been adorned with faces. This also makes it hard to see that it's supposed to be the sun reflecting its image in a lake.

Another change is the queen, where the pillars in the background have been starkly simplified.

Many of the exemplars from 1816 were coloured, but not all of them:

Hollar 1816: Physician Hollar 1816: Physician Hollar 1816: Physician Hollar 1816: Physician

The 1816-edition was later copied by an unknown English artist. For more about Hollar and the early editions, see the page about Wenceslaus Hollar.


The Fall
Hollar (colour) 1816: The Fall
Hollar (colour) 1816: Queen
Hollar (colour) 1816: Bishop
Hollar (colour) 1816: Lawyer
Hollar (colour) 1816: Nun
Old woman
Hollar (colour) 1816: Old woman
Hollar (colour) 1816: Physician
Rich man
Hollar (colour) 1816: Rich man
Hollar (colour) 1816: Count
Old man
Hollar (colour) 1816: Old man
Hollar (colour) 1816: Countess
Hollar (colour) 1816: Noblewoman
Hollar (colour) 1816: Peddler
Hollar (colour) 1816: Child
Hollar (colour) 1816: Soldier
Hollar (colour) 1816: Waggoner
Hollar (colour) 1816: Gambler
Hollar in colour
Hollar (colour) 1816: Hollar in colour
Holbein in colour
Hollar (colour) 1816: Holbein in colour
Hollar 1853
Hollar (colour) : Hollar 1853
Hollar 1853
Hollar (colour) : Hollar 1853

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)
"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)

Footnotes: (1)

In his book Francis Barlow: first master of English book illustration, 1978, Edward Hodnett seems to disagree: »An oval copy of the Hollar portrait has engraved beneath it the incorrect 'etched by Barlow'«.

However, Hodnett doesn't explain why he thinks it is incorrect.