ans Holbein the Younger was born during the winter 1497-1498 in Germany. He moved to Basel (Switzerland) in 1514
where he acquired fame from his woodcuts. In 1532 he moved to England where he became known for his
realistic portraits. He painted about 150 portraits - including
prospective wives for Henry VIIIth. Holbein died October 1543 from the plaque.
In this section we will examine three works by Holbein:
The dance of death alphabet. Signed by Hans Lützelburger
he many editions of Les Simulachres & historiees faces de la Mort
vary concerning title, number of woodcuts, subtitles, language — and which books they are bundled together with
(even in 1538, 41 small pictures was too little to fill an entire volume).
The only thing the various editions have in common is that the artist behind the woodcut is anonymous.
Both the alphabet and the dance of death were published without Holbein's name.
This convinced Francis Douce that
Holbein was not the originator of the works.
But in spite of Douce's immense learning and erudition he was able to persuade few if any
The reasons everybody else point at Holbein and Lützelburger are:
The woodcutter Hans Lützelburger had written his name on many of the printers' proofs of
the alphabet (to the right):
»HAnns Lützelburger / formschnider / genant Franck«.
Hans Lützelburger has carved his initials, HL, on
the duchess' bed.
The Dance of Death Alphabet and the Great Dance of Death
are so similar in theme and detail that it's
natural to assume they were made by the same artist.
1547: Bible-illustrations with The Creation.
Both the alphabet and the Great Dance of Death are of so masterly quality
that it's easier to believe they were made by the same artist, than to assume two equally gifted artists.
The Trechsel Brothers not only published the dance of death, but also an Old Testament
with woodcuts by Holbein.
It was no secret that Holbein had designed the woodcuts for The Old Testament,
and in some of the Bibles and picture books, the Trechsel brothers used the pictures of
Temptation and Fall,
the Expulsion from Paradise and
Life After the Fall from the dance of death.
Bible from 1538 with The Creation by Holbein
Let us look at two examples of the latter:
In 1538, the same year that the Trechsel Brothers published Holbein's dance of death
for the first time, they also published
The Old Testament illustrated by Holbein.
The first picture was the Creation, which was taken from the dance of death
(to the left).
English edition of Holbein's Bible-illustrations from 1549. The Expulsion:
Vuhen Adam and Heua dyd atknolege thor syn, they dyd fle from the face of God …
In 1547 the woodcuts from The Old Testament were published separately — along with some didactic poems
under the name Historiarum Veteris Testamenti. Here the publisher included the 4 woodcuts from the dance of death.
To the right are The Creation and The Expulsion from Paradise.
In the preface to the Bible-cuts, Holbein's good friend Nicolaus Bourbon wrote a poem, where he shamelessly compared Holbein
to the great masters of Antiquity. In Elysium, Apelles
is bewailing to Parrhasius and Zeuxis, the living painter, by whom their fame
is now perfectly eclipsed. Holbein is his name:
»Holbius est homini nomen, qui nomina nostra
Obscura ex claris ac propč nulla fecit«.