The Bishop

Holbein Proofs, Bishop
Moses and the burning bush
Holbein: Moses and the burning bush
The dance of death in Chur
Dance of death in Chur

A 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.

Holbein (original): The sun over the hill
The bishop
Birckmann (shown mirrored) adds a little sun in the lake
The bishop
Valvasor copies the little sun
The bishop
Hollar makes the sun look like a real mirror reflection
The bishop
Deuchar (shown mirrored) copies Hollar
The bishop
Hollar 1816 is "improved", so the suns get faces
The bishop
Wildridge copies the "improved" etching with faces
The bishop

Various Artists

Holbein Proofs (1526)
Holbein Proofs 1526: Bishop
Holbein (1538)
Holbein 1538: Bishop
Aldegrever (1541)
Aldegrever 1541: Bishop
Vogtherr (1544)
Vogtherr 1544: Bishop
Birckmann (1555)
Birckmann 1555: Bishop
Juan de Icíar (1555)
Juan de Icíar 1555: Bishop
Scharffenberg (1576)
Scharffenberg 1576: Bishop
Straub (1581)
Straub 1581: Bishop
Chytraeus (1590)
Chytraeus 1590: Bishop
Donaueschingen (1600)
Donaueschingen 1600: Bishop
Kieser (1617)
Kieser 1617: Bishop
Meyer (1650)
Meyer 1650: Biskop
Hollar (1651)
Hollar 1651: Bishop
Thomas Neale (1657)
Thomas Neale 1657: Bishop
Valvasor (1682)
Valvasor 1682: Bishop
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: Bishop
Deuchar (1788)
Deuchar 1788: Bishop
Bewick (1789)
Bewick 1789: Bishop
Anderson (1810)
Anderson 1810: Bishop
Hollar (colour) (1816)
Hollar (colour) 1816: Bishop
'Mr. Bewick' (1825)
'Mr. Bewick' 1825: Bishop
Bechstein (1831)
Bechstein 1831: Bishop
Schlotthauer (1832)
Schlotthauer 1832: Bishop
Douce (1833)
Douce 1833: Bishop
Curmer (1858)
Curmer 1858: Bishop
Douce reprint (1858)
Douce reprint 1858: Bishop
Wildridge (1887)
Wildridge 1887: Bishop
Deuchar (1887)
Deuchar 1887: Bishop