The Soldier

Basel's dance of death, Knight
Merian, Knight
Holbein's alphabet
Holbein Alphabet, Holbein: P

T he following pictures have been cut by a less skilled hand and are of variable quality. The soldier was added in the 5th edition in 1547.

The picture demonstrates how Holbein deviates from the older "real" dances of death. Earlier on, Death was merely a messenger, who announced the case of death. The picture to the left is from the dance of death in Holbein's hometown, Basel. Here, the knight meets Death in full armour, but there's not a hint of a fight — Death wears the armour in order to ape and mock the knight. With Holbein, Death is an aggressor, who grabs his victims and drags them away. It's therefore logical that when Death meets a person, who's capable of defending himself, a fierce duel ensues.

Holbein dagger: The war drum and the soldier
Holbein dagger

The soldier, who's literally fighting for his life, also appears in Holbein's dance of death-alphabet (image further up to the right). In Holbein's great dance of death the added space has given Holbein an opportunity to add a lot of fallen soldiers.

In the background, Death comes marching with a war drum — thus luring more soldiers to the battle. Holbein got the idea of Death striking the war drum from his old design, the Holbein dagger (picture to the right).

Variations: Birckmann has equipped Death with a gigantic arrow instead of a bone; Death doesn't have a shield, but grabs the soldier; Death has placed the hourglass on one of the fallen soldiers. These changes are copied by Valvasor, Hollar and Deuchar.
Rubens finishes the drawing of the bone; Death raises his arm, so one can see the face; Death has a nose. These changes are copied by Mechel.

Various Artists

Holbein (1547)
Holbein 1547: Soldier
Birckmann (1555)
Birckmann 1555: Soldier
Melantrich (1563)
Melantrich 1563: Soldier
Scharffenberg (1576)
Scharffenberg 1576: Soldier
Chytraeus (1590)
Chytraeus 1590: Soldier
Rubens (1590)
Rubens 1590: Soldier
Kieser (1617)
Kieser 1617: Soldier
Hollar (1651)
Hollar 1651: Soldier
Thomas Neale (1657)
Thomas Neale 1657: Soldier
Valvasor (1682)
Valvasor 1682: Soldier
Rusting (1707)
Rusting 1707: Soldier
Nieuhoff (1720)
Nieuhoff 1720: Soldier
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: Soldier
Deuchar (1788)
Deuchar 1788: Soldier
Bewick (1789)
Bewick 1789: Soldier
Anderson (1810)
Anderson 1810: Soldier
Hollar (colour) (1816)
Hollar (colour) 1816: Soldier
'Mr. Bewick' (1825)
'Mr. Bewick' 1825: Soldier
Bechstein (1831)
Bechstein 1831: Soldier
Schlotthauer (1832)
Schlotthauer 1832: Soldier
Douce (1833)
Douce 1833: Soldier
Curmer (1858)
Curmer 1858: Soldier
Wildridge (1887)
Wildridge 1887: Soldier
Deuchar (1887)
Deuchar 1887: Soldier