Jiří Melantrich (1563)

Knijha Erasma, 1563
Melantrich, Melantrich 1563
Knijha Erasma, 1564
Melantrich, Melantrich 1564

M elantrich lived from ca. 1511 till 1580. He was originally named Jiří Černý Roždalovický — i.e. Georg the black from Roždalovice. As a member of the senate of Prague he was awarded the title "of Aventino", and he Latinized his name to Melantrich, "the black-haired".

Melantrich published many books in Prague, among these a Bible and a herbarium, but his dance of death is largely unknown and may compete with Piccard's The Dead Dance for the title as the most obscure dance of death. Those very few experts that have described this dance, have all commented on, how unknown it is.

23017 — Knijha Erasma Roterodamskeho, w kterez gednomu kazdemu Krestianskemu Czloweku naucenij y napomenutij se dawa, yakby se k Smrti hotowiti mel. (The book of Erasmus Rot., in which instruction and admonition is given to every Christian, how he ought to prepare himself for death; translated into Bohemian.) Prag, Girijk Melantrych, 1563. 8°

The dance of death to be found prefixed to this extremely scarce book consisting of 53 representations engraved on wood with Bohemian verses in rhyme placed underneath, has not been mentioned by any author who has written on this subject. The representations are copies of those to be found in the editions which are furnished with Scheyt's text.
(Friedrich Adolf Ebert, A General Bibliographical Dictionary, 1837, Vol. 4, pp. 1902-1903 )

Death attacks the soldier with a large bone
Melantrich, Soldier

The full title of the book is: "Knijha Erasma Roterodámského w kteréž gednomu každému Křestianskému Cžlowěku naučenij y napomenutij se dáwá yakby se k Smrti hotowiti měl" or: "A book by Erasmus of Rotterdam, in which every Christian may be taught and admonished about how he should prepare for death". We are in fact dealing with a Czech translation of Erasmus' "Liber de prćparatione ad Mortem".

In the above quote Ebert claims that the woodcuts are copies of those (copies of) Holbein's Dance of Death that Birckmann's heirs published along with texts by Kaspar Scheit.

Ebert is mistaken here: The 53 woodcuts are not copies of Birckmann's woodcuts. The quickest way to see this is by noting that Death attacks the soldier with a bone (picture to the right) and not with an oversize dart as on Birckmann's woodcut and on Birckmann's imitiators: Hollar, Deuchar and Valvasor. Melantrich has probably copied Holbein's original woodcuts.

But Ebert might have a point anyway. Birckmann's heirs issued many editions of Holbein's woodcuts, and some of these editions were padded with Erasmus' "de prćparatione". Thus Birckmann was the first to combine Erasmus' book with Holbein's woodcuts. However, "de prćparatione" was never printed together with Kaspar Scheit's texts. It was only the Latin editions (and only some of them) that contained "De Prćparatione", while Kaspar Scheit's German texts only appeared in the High- and Low German editions.

The pope, without devils
Melantrich, Pope

The Czech text was translated by judge Jan Popel z Lobkovic / Johann Popel von Lobkowitz, who since 1547 had been in charge of the Bohemian censorship against Lutheran publications. Maybe this explains why the two devils from Holbein's pope weren't copied (picture to the left), while there is still a little devil at the senator's ear.

Maybe it was also out of respect for judge Lobkowitz that the dead man attacking the judge does not wear an iron collar and chains? Holbeins scene could easily be interpreted as if the dead man was one of the (corrupt) judge's former victims.


As shown by the images at the top of this page, Knijha Erasma Roterodamskeho was published in 1563 and 1564, i.e. a 100 years before another Czech, Wenceslaus Hollar, published his copies of Holbein's dance of death.

Kniha Erasma Roterodámského was republished more than 200 years later, in 1786, but this edition contains only "Liber de prćparatione ad Mortem" and no dance of death.

Resources and Links

Melantrich 1563
Melantrich 1563: Melantrich 1563
Melantrich 1564
Melantrich 1564: Melantrich 1564
Bones of All Men
Melantrich 1563: Bones of All Men
Melantrich 1563: Pope
Melantrich 1563: Cardinal
Melantrich 1563: Judge
Melantrich 1563: Senator
Melantrich 1563: Preacher
Old woman
Melantrich 1563: Old woman
Melantrich 1563: Duchess
Melantrich 1563: Soldier

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)

Hollar was also from Czechia.
Hollar, Soldier
Valvasor was from Ljubljana in Slovenia.
Valvasor, Duke
Wagner was from Poland, but lived in Transylvania.
Wagner, Knight