s the sun sets, Death drags the bishop away. The bishop's crosier is a shepherd's crook, but the sheep as well as the congregation are running bewildered around. According to the Bible quote that the publisher has placed above the picture, the flock is scattered because they are losing their shepherd: »[…] I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad« (Matthew 26:31).
But the scene could also be interpreted in the exact opposite way, viz. the sheep and the congregation are lost because the bishop is a bad shepherd, This interpretation is more in line with the generally negative attitude towards the Catholic church hierarchy, and it fits well with the Bible quote that accompanies the bishop in the dance of death alphabet: »the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings« (Jeremiah 23:2).
The sheep are the same as those on Holbein's woodcut from The Old Testament (picture to the left).
Holbein's dance of death has also inspired the dance of death in Chur in Switzerland - see picture to the right.
Variations: Aldegrever as usually makes a free interpretation
and Eberhard Kieser copies Aldegrever.
Scharffenberg forgets to draw humans and sheep in the background.
Vogtherr places the sun (with face) in the middle of the picture close to a village and "forgets" to draw the hourglass.
The print of the bishop is the one that clearest show who copies whom. Holbein lets sun set over a hilltop. Birckmann lets — presumably — the sun set over a lake, but the mirror image is all wrong. Valvasor copies Birckmann with the bad mirror image. Hollar copies Birckmann but fixes the image so the mirror image is bigger and placed correctly. Deuchar copies Hollar with the correct mirror image. In 1816 the worn-down plates for Hollar's etchings are "freshened up", and faces are added to the suns. Wildridge copies the two suns with their faces, so it's no longer apparent that it's supposed to be a mirror image in a lake.
The confusion is total. Small wonder the congregation are running bewildered away.