Tindall Wildridge

Decoration from Tindall Wildridge's book
The cover
The cover

A small book about dances of death, "The Dance of Death in painting and in print" — illustrated with 11 woodcuts. Published by Tindall Wildridge in 1887. The book can be seen in detail at The Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection (see link below), where the woodcuts are attributed to John Bewick.

It's a mistake to claim the blocks were cut by Bewick, because:

  1. Wildridge nowhere makes the claim that the cuts were made by Bewick
  2. John Bewick copies Holbein's woodcuts rather closely, whereas this unknown artists follows the deviations that were invented by Arnold Birckmann and later imitated by Wenceslaus Hollar and David Deuchar.
  3. Wildridge mentions that Bewick's wood-blocks were destroyed by fire in 1825.(1) This would have made it a tad difficult to employ them in 1887.
  4. Wildridge states clearly (p. 37) that the blocks »are a series found in a northern printing office many years ago« and that they »seem to be of considerable age«.

Has this unknown artist then copied Birckmann, Hollar or Deuchar? The answer is that the artist has copied the 1816-edition of Hollar, where the well-worn copperplates had been "rebitten". The plate where this is most apparent is the bishop because the artist, who refreshed Hollar's plates added faces on the sun and its mirror image.

Hollar: the sun mirrored in the lake
The bishop
Deuchar copies Hollar
(shown laterally inversed)
The bishop
Hollar 1816 new and improved. The suns have faces
The bishop
Unknown artist copies the "improved" image with faces
The bishop

Another example is the queen. The heavy-handed "renovation" of Hollar's plates meant that the decoration on the pillars had disappeared:

Hollar: Pillars with projections
Hollar: Detail
Hollar 1816:
Pillars are starkly simplified
Hollar 1816: Detail
Unknown artist:
The same simplified pillars.
Tindall Wildridge: Detail

A third example is the soldier. At the renovation in 1816 vertical lines were added at the top of the picture, and these are copied by the unknown artist:

Hollar: no vertical lines
Hollar: Detail
Hollar 1816: vertical lines
Hollar 1816: Detail
Unknown artist: vertical lines
Tindall Wildridge: Detail

It is rather clear then, that the artist has copied the 1816-edition of Hollar. One might sense a little doubt when it comes to the preacher, because Death holds a small bone in his hand, just like with Deuchar. But this similarity is in fact caused by the artist copying the 1816 edition of Hollar. The letter-press for this edition was copied from Mechel's etchings, where Death has a large bone in his hand. That's why the description to this picture says »Death, who is behind him with a stole about his neck, holds over his head the bone of a dead body«. The unknown artist, Deuchar and "Mr. Bewick" have all added a bone as demanded by the description, but all three of them place the hand and bone differently.

In contrast the hourglass shows us that the artist has copied Hollar: Hollar has rendered the hourglass so indistinctly that Deuchar has skipped it. In the 1816-edition, the hourglass has all but disappeared and looks more like some sort of buckle on the stole that Death is wearing. And verily, the unknown artist has copied this "buckle", which he couldn't have found by Deuchar.

Birckmann: Empty hands, distinct hourglass
Birckmann: Detail
Hollar: Empty hands, fairly distinct hourglass
Hollar: Detail
Deuchar: A small bone, no hourglass
Deuchar: Detail
Hollar 1816: Empty hands, very indistinct hourglass
Hollar 1816: Detail
Unknown artist: A small bone, indistinct hourglass
Tindall Wildridge: Detail
"Mr. Bewick": Large bone
Mr. Bewick: Detail


Wildridge 1887: Decoration
The Pope
Wildridge 1887: The Pope
Wildridge 1887: Emperor
Wildridge 1887: Empress
Wildridge 1887: Queen
Wildridge 1887: Bishop
Wildridge 1887: Abbess
Wildridge 1887: Preacher
Wildridge 1887: Nun
Wildridge 1887: Physician
Wildridge 1887: Count
Wildridge 1887: 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 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) ←

Hollar 1816: When Death attacks the soldier with a giant dart (rather than a bone), we know that we are dealing with copies of Birckmann, Hollar or Deuchar.
Hollar (colour), Soldier
Hollar 1816: The bishop and the two suns.
Hollar (colour), Bishop

Footnotes: (1)

»According to Hugo they were destroyed by fire shortly after the publication of 1825« (page 32).

The right year is probably 1803, and it seems that Tindall Wildridge has conflated the genuine Bewick with with the fake Bewick that Wright published in the Portfolio in 1825: »Mr. Wright declares, in connection with these cuts, that "expense is an object which is never regarded in supporting the character of the Portfolio"«.

However this doesn't affect my argument: that Wildridge is not trying to pass the 11 woodcuts off as genuine Bewick.