Heinrich Vogtherr

Das Menschlich leben anders nicht dann nur ein lauff zum Tod
Vogtherr, Vogtherr
Vogtherr adds a crucifixion scene, copied after Albrecht Dürer.
Vogtherr, Crucifix

A s early as in 1544, Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder (1490-1556) published his copy of Holbein's dance of death in Augsburg. This makes his dance of death the first German Holbein-clone, (unless you include Aldegrever's 8 pictures). Vogtherr's dance of death is a rather close copy of Holbein's work, except that the images are laterally reversed and bigger.

Vogtherr follows the old printed sheets, which explains the German titles. For the same reason he leaves out the astrologer and (naturally) the pictures that were only added to the dance in the later editions from 1545-1562. On the other hand, two new scenes are added: The adulterer and the crucifixion (picture to the right).

The sequence is the same as in the printed sheets and departs from Simulachres & Historiées. First comes the scenes from The Old Testament, then ecclesiastics (including the physician), secular men, and women ending with mother and child. In fact the sequence is exactly the same as the so-called printer's proofs in Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett except that the lawyer — rather illogically — comes before the judge.

The sequence is: Erschaffung des Menschen, Einführung ins paradeyß, Austreybung Adams, Fluch des Menschen, Der Pabst, Der Cardinal, Der Bischoff, Der Thumbherr, Der Abt, Der Pfarrer, Der Predicant, Der Münch, Der Artzet Der Kayser, Der Künig, Der Hertzog, Der Graff Der Ritter, Der Edelman, Der Rathsherr, Der Fürsprech, Der Richter, Der Reychmann, Der Kawffmann, Der Kramer, Der Schiffmann, Der Eebrecher, Der Ackermann, Der Alltmann, Die Kayserin, Die Künigin, Die Hertzogin, Die Gräffin, Die Edelfraw, Die Abtissin, Die Nunn, Das Allt weib, Das Jung kind, Die Gepain aller Menschen, Das Crucifix, Das Jüngst gericht and Das wappen des Todts

Hans Lützelburger's mark in the bedpost.
Vogtherr replaces the mark with the year 1542.

The books ends with the signature: »Gedruckt inn der Kaiserlichen Reychstatt Augspurg/ durch Jobst Denecker Formschneyder«. The publisher — Jobst Denecker — here points out that he himself used to work as a block-cutter.

Jobst Denecker (1485-1544, also called Jost de Necker / Negker / Nekker / Dienecker) was a splendid artist in his own right, who is credited with the invention of multi-colour prints and the chiaroscuro-technique. In his older years he branched out as a publisher. Many commentators want to affix Denecker's name to this book, but it's hard to see what role he's supposed to have played: The motifs were already designed by Holbein, and we know that Vogtherr cut the blocks, because he added his mark:

Vogtherr removed Hans Lützelburger's woodcutter's mark: a conjoined H and L in the lower, left corner of the duchess' bed. (see picture to the left). Instead Vogtherr replaced Lützelburger's mark with the year 1542 (picture to the right).

Reversed HVE.
Spejlvendt HVE

Vogtherr then added his own mark — a laterally reversed HVE (Heinrich Vogtherr Elterer) — in the lower right corner of the advocate. Click here for a super-sized image of Vogtherr's advocate.

The book starts with a discussion between Death and man, and each picture has a dialogue (in German) between Death and the dying, just as there is in all the "proper" dances of death. This text was included by Carl Helmuth in his copy of Vogtherr's woodcuts and likewise in the copy published by Leonhard Straub in St. Gallen in 1581.

The 1548 Edition

"ve tibi corona Superbia mea"
The text on the letter of indulgence
The pope from 1548: No letter and no devils.
Vogtherr, Pope

I n the woodcut of the pope, a devil comes flying with a letter of indulgence. In Holbein's version this letter is adorned with a pseudo-inscription, but in the 1544-edition Vogtherr replaced it with a legible text (picture to the left): "ve tibi corona Superbia mea"; "Woe unto thee the crown of my pride" This sounds like a variation of Isaiah 28:1 "vae coronae superbiae" ("Woe to the crown of pride").

In the next edition, which is from ca. 1548, the letter of indulgence is gone and so are the flying devil and the devil climbing the canopy (picture to the right).

The adulterer: The violent version from 1544.
Vogtherr, The adulterer
The adulterer from 1548: Less drama.
Vogtherr, The adulterer

An even more radical change was made to the scene with the adulterer. This person does not appear in Holbein's dance, but Vogtherr had invented a rather unpleasant scene with Death holding the woman fast by her hair while helping the cuckolded husband to pierce the adulterous couple (picture to the left). The picture caused outrage at the time and only appeared in the 1544-edition. In some of the existing copies it has been destroyed.(1)

In the later editions it was replaced by more tranquil scene: The same bed and the same room, but the couple are sitting together in the bed while Death holds up a mirror and hourglass (picture to the right).

Jobst de Necker, 1548, The adulterer

In this new scene, the woodcutter has added his mark at the bottom of the bed: A conjoined JD, short for Jobst Denecker (picture to the right).

Later Versions

The book was published in at least three versions by Jobst Denecker, and later on his son, David, published at least two versions.

In 1581 the book was copied by Leonhart Straub; in 1836 the text and some of the images were copied by Carl Helmuth.


Here are the 40 prints arranged in the same sequence as in Imagines Mortis:

Vogtherr 1544: Creation
The Fall
Vogtherr 1544: The Fall
Vogtherr 1544: Expulsion
After the Fall
Vogtherr 1544: After the Fall
Bones of All Men
Vogtherr 1544: Bones of All Men
The Pope
Vogtherr 1544: The Pope
Vogtherr 1544: Emperor
Vogtherr 1544: King
Vogtherr 1544: Cardinal
Vogtherr 1544: Empress
Vogtherr 1544: Queen
Vogtherr 1544: Bishop
Vogtherr 1544: Duke
Vogtherr 1544: Abbot
Vogtherr 1544: Abbess
Vogtherr 1544: Nobleman
Vogtherr 1544: Canon
Vogtherr 1544: Judge
Vogtherr 1544: Lawyer
Vogtherr 1544: Senator
Vogtherr 1544: Preacher
Vogtherr 1544: Priest
Vogtherr 1544: Monk
Vogtherr 1544: Nun
Old woman
Vogtherr 1544: Old woman
Vogtherr 1544: Physician
Rich man
Vogtherr 1544: Rich man
Vogtherr 1544: Merchant
Vogtherr 1544: Sailor
Vogtherr 1544: Knight
Vogtherr 1544: Count
Old man
Vogtherr 1544: Old man
Vogtherr 1544: Countess
Vogtherr 1544: Noblewoman
Vogtherr 1544: Duchess
Vogtherr 1544: Peddler
Vogtherr 1544: Peasant
Vogtherr 1544: Child
Judgement Day
Vogtherr 1544: Judgement Day
The escutcheon
Vogtherr 1544: The escutcheon
Vogtherr 1544: Lawyer
The adulterer
Vogtherr 1548: The adulterer
Vogtherr 1548: Pope
The adulterer
Vogtherr 1544: The adulterer
Vogtherr 1544: Crucifix
Vogtherr 1544: Vogtherr

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)
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)
Pseudo-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)

Vogtherr's woodcuts are reminiscent of the so-called "proofs" by Holbein.
Holbein Proofs, Preacher
Vogtherr's woodcuts were copied by Leonhart Straub.
Straub, Lawyer
Vogtherr's woodcuts were also copied by Carl Helmuth.
Helmuth, The adulterer

Footnotes: (1)

»Die Ehebruch-Szene in de Neckers Totentanz empörte die Zeitgenossen. Das Bild ist in einigen der erhaltenen Exemplare zerstört; es kommt in den meisten späteren Ausgaben nicht mehr vor«
(Uli Wunderlich, Der Tanz in den Tod, page 73).

Massmann also confirms that the scene wan't popular: »Ein grässlich Bild, nicht Holbeinisch, und - von der Zeit wahrscheinlich getadelt«
(Kunst-Blatt no. 76, 22. September 1831, page 302).

Up to Holbein's great dance of death