Janez Vajkard Valvasor

Title page.
Valvasor, Theatrum Mortis
The year with Roman numerals.
V LI D L V V IV VI LI M I
5+51+500+50+5+5+6+6+51+1000+1= 1680
L I I V DVC VI VI VMI
50+1+1+5+605+6+6+1006 = 1680
Valvasor, Theatrum Mortis HumanŠ, 1680

V alvasor (1641-1693) was also known as Johann Weichard Valvasor. He was a Slovenian nobleman from Ljubljana (Laybach), and he had established a printery in his castle with a large library and collection of prints.

In 1682 he published the book Theatrum Mortis HumanŠ Tripartitum. In fact, the year is a bit uncertain because the title page of each of the three parts indicate the year 1681, and in the beginning of the book there's a chronogram with the year 1680 (picture to the right).

As the title says, the book is in three parts, but only the first part is a dance of death. The second part deals with the subject of various "types of death" (i.e. the death of famous historical persons), and the third part shows 42 pictures of people being tortured in hell, according to which sins they have committed in this life.

The pictures are framed with very detailed decorations of flowers, birds, insects and fruits. These frames are a part of the copperplates (sometimes you can see how the plants cross the border) and they are all different. The bottom half of the frame for the king and the robber are almost identical and features among other things the same fable by Aesop, but it's only the bottom halves that are identical (click the images to the the frames).

Frontispiece; The Triumph of Death
Valvasor, Theatrum Mortis
Death appears even in those scenes where Holbein had left him out.
Valvasor, Child

The frontispiece depicts the Triumph of Death (picture to the left), with Death entering the city doors riding on a war elephant. In front of the procession are Adam and Eve bound, along with the Tree of Wisdom and the subtil serpent.

The illustrations were executed by Andreas Trost and Johann (Janez) Koch, and they follow the versions invented by Arnold Birckmann very closely. This is also true for Hollar and David Deuchar, but Valvasor is even more consequent: Hollar (and Deuchar) copied some of their scenes from Holbein, but Valvasor has only copied Birckmann. The only exception is the expulsion, where Valvasor doesn't follow Birckmann but on the other hand doesn't make an exact copy of Holbein either.

Valvasor deviates from Birckmann in one way, namely that Death is added to those scenes, where Holbein and Birckmann didn't show him originally. This means the beggar and the chubby kids.

Crucifixion
Valvasor, Crucifixion

The sequence is a story in itself, for it is not the same as Birckmann's. It seems that Valvasor has basically chosen the same order as Heinrich Vogtherr, which harks back to the so-called printer's proofs.

First come the four scenes from The Old Testament: Creation, the Fall of Man, the Expulsion and life after the Fall. Then follow the clergy, and Valvasor deviates from Vogtherr by including the abbess and the nun here instead of bundling them together with the other women.

The follow the lay people and Valvasor inserts the 12 scenes that Vogtherr didn't have, where they make sense. For instance the soldier is placed after the nobleman — they are both fighting Death with a sword — and after the soldier comes the robber. To the average citizen, soldiers and robbers have been two sides of the same coin. Then follow the women and the child, and Valvasor has — very logically — placed the four images with little boys (putti) here.

The ossuary has been placed towards the end, right before Judgment Day, just like Vogtherr has done. This means that the many dead musicians are not playing a prelude to the dance of death, but rather the resurrection. But just before the resurrection and Judgment Day there is a crucifixion scene (to the right).

Vogtherr is the only other artist to add a crucifixion to Holbein's dance of death. However, he places it — less logically — between the resurrection and Judgment Day.

Valvasor and Hollar

Sleeve by Birckmann
Birckmann
Sleeve by Holbein
Holbein

B oth Valvasor and Hollar copy Birckmann. Valvasor is from Slovenia and Hollar is from Czechia. Is it possible then, that Valvasor might be a sort of "missing link" between Birckmann and Hollar? Has Hollar copied Valvasor?

Hardly, since Hollar's copperplates are 31 years older than Valvasor's. If further proof is needed, then look at the sleeve that Birckmann has designed for the troubadour who plays for the nun. Birckmann's sleeve (to the left) is puffy at the top and tight below, while Holbein's original sleeve is shorter and made of strips. Hollar (and Deuchar) copies Birckmann's sleeve, and Hollar hasn't done this via Valvasor, because in Valvasor's version of the nun, the troubadour has been removed.

Is it the other way around then? Has Valvasor copied Hollar's book, which was 31 years old by then? This is hardly credible either. First of all Valvasor has 53 scenes (including 4 of chubby boys), while Hollar only has 30. Secondly Valvasor is much more Birckmann-o-phile than Hollar. Hollar sometimes ignores Birckmann's deviations: In the pictures of Creation, Temptation and Fall, the emperor and the duke, Hollar has prefered to copy Holbein's originals. But even in these 4 cases, Valvasor shows the same variations as Birckmann, so there's no indication Valvasor has ever looked at Hollar.

The conclusion is then, that Valvasor and Hollar independently of each other have chosen to copy Birckmann instead of Holbein.

Resources

Theatrum Mortis
Valvasor 1682: Theatrum Mortis
Theatrum Mortis
Valvasor 1682: Theatrum Mortis
Creation
Valvasor 1682: Creation
The Fall
Valvasor 1682: The Fall
Expulsion
Valvasor 1682: Expulsion
After the Fall
Valvasor 1682: After the Fall
Bones of All Men
Valvasor 1682: Bones of All Men
The Pope
Valvasor 1682: The Pope
Emperor
Valvasor 1682: Emperor
King
Valvasor 1682: King
Cardinal
Valvasor 1682: Cardinal
Empress
Valvasor 1682: Empress
Queen
Valvasor 1682: Queen
Bishop
Valvasor 1682: Bishop
Duke
Valvasor 1682: Duke
Abbot
Valvasor 1682: Abbot
Abbess
Valvasor 1682: Abbess
Nobleman
Valvasor 1682: Nobleman
Canon
Valvasor 1682: Canon
Judge
Valvasor 1682: Judge
Lawyer
Valvasor 1682: Lawyer
Senator
Valvasor 1682: Senator
Preacher
Valvasor 1682: Preacher
Priest
Valvasor 1682: Priest
Monk
Valvasor 1682: Monk
Nun
Valvasor 1682: Nun
Old woman
Valvasor 1682: Old woman
Physician
Valvasor 1682: Physician
Astrologer
Valvasor 1682: Astrologer
Rich man
Valvasor 1682: Rich man
Merchant
Valvasor 1682: Merchant
Sailor
Valvasor 1682: Sailor
Knight
Valvasor 1682: Knight
Count
Valvasor 1682: Count
Old man
Valvasor 1682: Old man
Countess
Valvasor 1682: Countess
Noblewoman
Valvasor 1682: Noblewoman
Duchess
Valvasor 1682: Duchess
Peddler
Valvasor 1682: Peddler
Peasant
Valvasor 1682: Peasant
Child
Valvasor 1682: Child
Judgement Day
Valvasor 1682: Judgement Day
The escutcheon
Valvasor 1682: The escutcheon
Soldier
Valvasor 1682: Soldier
Waggoner
Valvasor 1682: Waggoner
Gambler
Valvasor 1682: Gambler
Robber
Valvasor 1682: Robber
Blind man
Valvasor 1682: Blind man
Beggar
Valvasor 1682: Beggar
Drunkard
Valvasor 1682: Drunkard
Fool
Valvasor 1682: Fool
Child
Valvasor 1682: Child
Children
Valvasor 1682: Children
Children
Valvasor 1682: Children
Children
Valvasor 1682: Children
Crucifixion
Valvasor 1682: Crucifixion

Other interpreters of Holbein's dance of death

Artists/publishers:

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 IcÝar (1555)
Valentin Wagner (1557)
JiřÝ 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 ←
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 LÚon Curmer (1858)
Tindall Wildridge (1887)
Holbein: The nun and the minstrel.
Holbein Proofs, Nun
Birckmann: The nun and the minstrel.
Birckmann, Nun
Vogtherr: Crucifixion
Vogtherr, Crucifix