The Beggar

The Beggar in the 1545-edition
Holbein, Beggar
Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti: Job
Holbein: Job

T he beggar sits at the city gate, while people are hurrying past. To him alone, Death does not appear.

There's a very earthbound reason why Death isn't on the picture: Originally, the beggar wasn't a part of the dance of death. All the editions of Holbein's dance of death are book collections, because 41-58 pictures is far too little to fill an entire book. Therefore the volume is "padded" with some choice selections of ecclesiastical and philosophical writings. In the 1545-edition, the picture of the beggar was published in one of these sections. In the 1547-edition the beggar joined the dance of death together with 11 other new pictures.

The picture is reminiscent of Holbein's own illustration from The Old Testament, namely the picture of Job. Both men are sitting in front of the town wall, both are covered with boils with their heads leaned back, while the two men are pointing. Job is being stared at by his wife, whereas the women in the window above the gate stares at the beggar.

One can almost hear the beggar quote the Book of Job: Let the day perish wherein I was born […] Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?

Variations: Birckmann adds another window so that there are two women staring at the beggar; the house/wall is decorated with pillars; The beggar folds his hands in prayer. Deuchar copies Birckmann.
Valvasor copies Birckmann as always, but adds Death prominently in the center of the scene.
Bewick and Anderson has the beggar folding his hands in prayer; Anderson includes Death in the left hand corner of the picture.

Various Artists

Holbein (1545)
Holbein 1545: Beggar
Holbein (1547)
Holbein 1547: Beggar
Birckmann (1555)
Birckmann 1555: Beggar
Chytraeus (1590)
Chytraeus 1590: Beggar
Kieser (1617)
Kieser 1617: Beggar
Doodt Vermaskert (1654)
Doodt Vermaskert 1654: Beggar
Valvasor (1682)
Valvasor 1682: Beggar
Doodt Vermaskert (1698)
Doodt Vermaskert 1698: Beggar
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: Beggar
Deuchar (1788)
Deuchar 1788: Beggar
Bewick (1789)
Bewick 1789: Beggar
Anderson (1810)
Anderson 1810: Beggar
Bechstein (1831)
Bechstein 1831: Beggar
Schlotthauer (1832)
Schlotthauer 1832: Beggar
Douce (1833)
Douce 1833: Beggar
Curmer (1858)
Curmer 1858: Beggar
Deuchar (1887)
Deuchar 1887: Beggar