Eberhard Kieser

While the woman looks out the window of the tower, Death uses a ladder to enter the other window.
There's no explanation of why the tower looks like a face.
Kieser, Tower
Frontispiece of the 1617 edition.
Kieser, Kieser, 1617

E berhard Kieser was from Kastelaun in Hunsrück, but he is known to have resided in Frankfurt between 1609 and 1630, where he had citizen's rights on the condition that he didn't practise his craft as a goldsmith.

Instead he published several books — among these a dance of death. The first edition was in 1617 with the title »Speculum Humanae Vitae«, republished same year under the name »Todten Dantz Durch alle Stände und Geschlecht der Menschen. etc.«

The title was the same as the German language editions of the Holbein-copies, which Birckmann's heirs had published in Cologne, and which had texts by Caspar Scheydt.

Kieser also took the rest of the texts from Birckmann's books. First comes an 8-lined poem comparing the pomp of mortal humans with the feathers of a peacock: »Gleich wie der Pfaw«. Incidentally, the same poem was included in Merian's books from 1649 and onwards.

Birckmann's publications started with a greeting to the Christian reader: »Dem Christlichem Leser wünschet Caspar Scheyt / ein embsige Betrachtung«, which served as introduction to a 94-line poem. Kieser removed the greetings from Scheydt, and rewrote the poen so it grew to 166 lines.

After the dance of death, Birckmann had another poem by Scheydt, »Beschluß«. Kieser copied this poem verbatim, but extended it from 1½ pages to 5½.

The bishop and six others were copied after Aldegrever.
Kieser, Bishop
The aboot (and most others) are close copies after Holbein.
Kieser, Abbot

T he dance of death consists of 60 plates. These images are numbered and furnished with flowery frames. The series includes 57 of the 58 scenes in Holbein's dance of death (the one lacking is these children). Above each image is a Bible quote in German, and below is a 6-line poem by Caspar Scheydt.

In contrast to the texts, the images are not copied from Birckmann's book. Most of them are close copies of Holbein's original woodcuts, but Kieser has also had access to the 8 pictures in Aldegrever's dance of death, and in 7 cases he has preferred Aldegrever to Holbein. The 8th picture, the abbot, along with most of the rest, are pretty close copies of Holbein.

Three of the pictures are Kieser's own invention: The Jew, The Jewess and Death using a ladder to enter the window of a tower (Jeremiah 9:21, picture top, left).

The frontispiece (picture top right) is a copy of Memento Mori by Fortuna and Andreana.

In 1623 the dance was reissued under the name »Icones Mortis Aliquot Imaginibus«. The sixth and last edition from 1648 was called »Icones Mortis Sexaginta Imaginibus«. The German sub-title was: »Vorbildungen deß Todtes / In Sechtzig Figuren durch alle Stände und Geschlechte / derselbigen nichtige Sterblichkeit fürzuweisen / außgedruckt / und mit so viel überschrifften / auch Lateinischen und neuen Teutschen Verßlein erkläret«.

Frontispiece, 1648
Kieser, TodenTantz

It is a little paradoxical that the title says "Sexaginta / Sechtzig Figuren", now when there are no longer only sixty plates. During the years, four more plates had been added: TodenTantz, scales, Sexaginta and ossuary, for a total of 64.

A quaint detail is that the year is not printed on the title page. Instead the book contains two Bible quotes in Latin and German, where some of the letters are to be read as Roman numerals (in the German text, W is to be read as two times V, i.e. 10). This is how it looks in the 1648-edition:

VIta nostra VeLVt herba, qVæ ManèVI V LV V M1071Icones Mortis Sexaginta, 1648
  fLoret aC VIres aCCIpIt, VesperIL CVI CCI I V I364
  arefaCta reseCatVr, & sVbIC C V V I210
  perIIt psal. 90.I I2
aLLes fLeIsCh Ist heVV / VnDLL L I C I VVV D767
  aLLe seIne herrLIChkeIt IstLL I LIC I I254
  WIe eIn baLD VerWeLktesW I I LD V W L627
  Gras. Esa. 40.
Kieser copies Holbein closely. Even the horse apples.
The peasant, detail, Kieser 1617

I n this (last) edition the poems that Kieser had copied from Birckmann/Scheydt have been removed again. Instead the book starts with a few short texts, which are in both Latin and German.

Then follows three poems, the last of which is titled "Irrgedicht" and starts »DIese düstre Schatten-Nacht […]«. These poems are signed by G.P.H., which stands for Georg Philipp Harsdörffer.

When it comes to the dance of death, Scheydt's texts remain, since they are engraved in the copper plates just as the German Bible-quotes are. On the left side of each page-opening are the same Bible verses in Latin, four lines with Gilles Corrozet's verses that Georg Aemilius had translated into Latin in 1542. Then the Bible is quoted in German (i.e. more or less the same quote as the old one engraved at the top of the plate), and there is a German verse of 4 lines.(1)

These are the »Lateinischen und neuen Teutschen Verßlein« that were advertised on the front page. The question then is who wrote these new introductory texts and the »neuen Teutschen Verßlein« for the dance of death: Johann Vogel, whose name is on the title page? Or Harsdörffer?

Harsdörffer's popularity resulted in the 1648-edition being reprinted in 1998. For unknown reasons, Holbeins dance of death is once again confused with Basel's dance of death. This is from the publisher's description of the reprint: »Die 60 gezählten Kupfer, im wesentlichen unveränderte Sujets des berühmten Baseler Totentanzfreskos Hans Holbeins d.J., von dessen Original heute nur noch Spuren erkennbar sind, […]« Holbein's dance of death has nothing to do with the dance of death in Basel — this is a myth, which probably originates from Georg Scharffenberg.


Kieser 1617: TodenTantz
Kieser 1617: Scales
Kieser 1617: Sexaginta
Kieser 1617: Creation
The Fall
Kieser 1617: The Fall
The Expulsion
Kieser 1617: The Expulsion
After the Fall
Kieser 1617: After the Fall
Bones of All Men
Kieser 1617: Bones of All Men
The Pope
Kieser 1617: The Pope
Kieser 1617: Emperor
Kieser 1617: King
Kieser 1617: Cardinal
Kieser 1617: Empress
Kieser 1617: Queen
Kieser 1617: Bishop
Kieser 1617: Duke
Kieser 1617: Abbot
Kieser 1617: Abbess
Kieser 1617: Nobleman
Kieser 1617: Canon
Kieser 1617: Judge
Kieser 1617: Lawyer
Kieser 1617: Senator
Kieser 1617: Preacher
Kieser 1617: Priest
Kieser 1617: Monk
Kieser 1617: Nun
Old woman
Kieser 1617: Old woman
Kieser 1617: Physician
Kieser 1617: Astrologer
Rich man
Kieser 1617: Rich man
Kieser 1617: Merchant
Kieser 1617: Sailor
Kieser 1617: Knight
Kieser 1617: Count
Kieser 1617: Countess
Kieser 1617: Noblewoman
Kieser 1617: Duchess
Kieser 1617: Peddler
Kieser 1617: Peasant
Kieser 1617: Child
Judgment Day
Kieser 1617: Judgment Day
The escutcheon
Kieser 1617: The escutcheon
Kieser 1617: Soldier
Kieser 1617: Waggoner
Kieser 1617: Gambler
Kieser 1617: Robber
Blind man
Kieser 1617: Blind man
Kieser 1617: Beggar
Kieser 1617: Drunkard
Kieser 1617: Fool
Young woman
Kieser 1617: Young woman
Young man
Kieser 1617: Young man
Kieser 1617: Child
Kieser 1617: Children
Kieser 1617: Children
Kieser 1617: Children
Kieser 1617: Children
Kieser 1617: Children
Kieser 1617: Jew
Kieser 1617: Jewess
Kieser 1617: Tower
Kieser 1617: Ossuary
Kieser, 1617
Kieser 1617: Kieser, 1617

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)

Footnotes: (1)

The exemplars residing on The Internet Archive and Gallica share the defect that between plate XVI and XXIII the left and righthand-pages come in a jumbled sequence:
LeftRight (Figure)

So if you are interested in the text, you should read the exemplar on Google Books.