The Pope

Holbein Proofs, Pope
From "Antithesis Figurata Vitae Christi et Anthichristi", 1521.

T he pope is about to crown a kneeling emperor. The pope lets the emperor kiss his feet, which was precisely one of those acts that Martin Luther already in 1520 had characterized as acts of the antichrist. The true Christ washed his disciples' feet, while the Antichrist makes every tyrant and pagan prince kiss his feet (picture to the right).

Death jovially puts his arm around the pope, while the other hand holds on to a crutch. Another Death has cleverly disguised himself as a cardinal and sends a crooked smile to the reader, while aping the cardinal in front.

Bechstein: A silent prayer
A silent prayer

The different artists show clearly that the emperor has the pope's foot in his face. Only Bechstein (to the left) is more ambiguous. His drawing could easily give the impression that the emperor is folding his hands in a silent prayer. Maybe he's praying that he won't contract athlete's foot in the mouth?

Vogtherr: "ve tibi corona Superbia mea"
The text on the letter of indulgence
Mantegna: Christ in Limbo

A   devil is crawling over the pope's head, and another devil comes flying with a letter of indulgence. The popes armrest is a cherub with devil's wings.

Holbein may have copied these devils with horns, wings and twisted tails from Mantegna's picture of Christ in Limbo(1) (picture to the right).

On the letter of indulgence is a pseudo-inscription, which Vogtherr has replaced with a legible text (picture to the left): "ve tibi corona Superbia mea". I'm not an expert on Latin, but it sounds like a variation of Isaiah 28:1 "vae coronae superbiae". Isaiah means "Woe to the crown of pride", so the flying devil probably says "Woe to you, my crown of pride".

Mechel with the two devils.
Mechel, The Pope
Mechel without devils.
Mechel, The Pope

The picture of the pope is the most problematic (for the publisher), and presumably the reason why Les Simulachres & Historiées was published anonymously and with much delay. The other pictures are more ambiguous, and could always be explained away by saying that the artist had portrayed a single corrupt cardinal or a single incompetent bishop. But there is only one single infallible pope, so when Holbein depicts the pope surrounded by devils and corpses (and does the same with the pope in the dance of death alphabet), then the address is unequivocal and the message is unmistakable. Therefore most of the copyists chose to remove the devils — if not at first, then in later issues.

As the picture to the left and right show, Christian de Mechel's etchings are available both with and without devils.

Vogtherr with the two devils in 1544.
Vogtherr, The Pope
Vogtherr without devils in 1548.
Vogtherr, Pope

We saw how Vogtherr not only included the devils but placed a legible text, "ve tibi corona Superbia mea", on the scroll. Four years later the devils had been removed.

Valgrisi with two devils.
Valgrisi, Pope
Glissenti without devils.
Glissenti, The Pope

Vincenzo Valgrisi had copied the devils, but when his woodcuts were reprinted by Glissenti they were censored. It's fairly easy to see the "plug" that was used to replace the devil in the curtains.

Glissenti gave the same treatment to the devil on Valgrisi's woodcut of the senator.

Variations: Aldegrever makes a free interpretation as usual and has also removed one of the devils. Eberhard Kieser copies Aldegrever, but removes both devils, as most other copyists do.
All that Scharffenberg uses is the picture of Death as Cardinal — the rest of his picture is copied from Amman (see the page about Scharffenberg for details).
Birckmann lets Death crawl behind the pope, and Valvasor, Hollar and Deuchar imitate him. Valvasor changes the scene, so the pope instead ordains a new bishop, and not an emperor.

Various Artists

Holbein Proofs (1526)
Holbein Proofs 1526: Pope
Holbein (1538)
Holbein 1538: The Pope
Aldegrever (1541)
Aldegrever 1541: Pope
Vogtherr (1544)
Vogtherr 1544: The Pope
Valgrisi (1545)
Valgrisi 1545: Pope
Vogtherr (1548)
Vogtherr 1548: Pope
Birckmann (1555)
Birckmann 1555: The Pope
Juan de Icíar (1555)
Juan de Icíar 1555: Pope
Melantrich (1563)
Melantrich 1563: Pope
Scharffenberg (1576)
Scharffenberg 1576: The Pope
Straub (1581)
Straub 1581: The Pope
Chytraeus (1590)
Chytraeus 1590: The Pope
Glissenti (1596)
Glissenti 1596: The Pope
Kieser (1617)
Kieser 1617: The Pope
Meyer (1650)
Meyer 1650: Pope
Hollar (1651)
Hollar 1651: The Pope
Hollar (1651?)
Hollar 1651?: The Pope
Doodt Vermaskert (1654)
Doodt Vermaskert 1654: The Pope
Thomas Neale (1657)
Thomas Neale 1657: Pope
Faut Mourir (1666)
Faut Mourir 1666: Le Faut-mourir
Valvasor (1682)
Valvasor 1682: The Pope
Straub (1687)
Straub 1687: Pope
Doodt Vermaskert (1698)
Doodt Vermaskert 1698: Pope
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: The Pope
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: The Pope
Deuchar (1788)
Deuchar 1788: The Pope
Bewick (1789)
Bewick 1789: The Pope
Anderson (1810)
Anderson 1810: The Pope
'Mr. Bewick' (1825)
'Mr. Bewick' 1825: The Pope
Bechstein (1831)
Bechstein 1831: The Pope
Schlotthauer (1832)
Schlotthauer 1832: The Pope
Douce (1833)
Douce 1833: The Pope
Curmer (1858)
Curmer 1858: The Pope
Wildridge (1887)
Wildridge 1887: The Pope
Deuchar (1887)
Deuchar 1887: The Pope

Footnotes: (1)

This observation is made by Stephanie Buck in "Die Jahre in Basel 1515-1532", Munich (2006).