The Fool
Fool

The Fool

Klein-Basel, The Fool and his bauble.
Klein-basel, The Fool
Holbein's dance of death alphabet, The Fool.
Holbein Alphabet, Holbein: R

T he fool is about to hit Death with his Fool's bauble — an air-filled bladder. Holbein might have looked at the local dance of death, in Kleinbasel (picture to the left), where the fool is also shown with a bladder at the end of his fool's staff.

Holbein used the same idea in his dance of death alphabet. Here too, the fool is about to hit Death with his bladder.

The bauble with bladder is a phallic symbol(1), and on both of Holbein's pictures, you can see how Death pulls up the fool's "skirt" revealing his manhood. It is af if Death were saying to the fool: "Try hitting me with that stick-with-bladder instead".

Death plays a bagpipe (same instrument as in Tallinn and Berlin). A bagpipe is, like the fool's bauble, an air-filled bladder with a stick.

Bauble with bladder.
Bauble with bladder
Holbein, decorated initial.
Fool

The same imagery (bagpipe, sticks, fool and phallic symbol) appears in one of Holbein's many other alphabets (to the right): One child plays a bagpipe, while the other is dressed as a fool, has two sticks in his hand and rides a ram.

The image of Death playing the bag-pipes has inspired the dance of death in Holbein's hometown, Basel. See the picture of the pagan woman.

Birckmann
Birckmann
Censored Deuchar
Deuchar
Deuchar censors the picture of the fool. In most other copies, one can clearly see the fool's manhood, but in Deuchar's version (and Schlotthauer's and Curmer's), the fool has been mercilessly "shortened".

Variations: Birckmann lets Death carry a sword. This is copied by Valvasor and Deuchar.
Birckmann adds a tassel at the end of the bauble, but this is only copied by Valvasor.
Anderson dresses the fool with boots and trousers.

Various Artists

Holbein (1538)
Holbein 1538: Fool
Birckmann (1555)
Birckmann 1555: Fool
Scharffenberg (1576)
Scharffenberg 1576: Fool
Chytraeus (1590)
Chytraeus 1590: Fool
Kieser (1617)
Kieser 1617: Fool
Valvasor (1682)
Valvasor 1682: Fool
Mechel (1780)
Mechel 1780: Fool
Deuchar (1788)
Deuchar 1788: Fool
Bewick (1789)
Bewick 1789: Fool
Anderson (1810)
Anderson 1810: Fool
Pseudo-Bewick (1825)
Pseudo-Bewick 1825: Fool
Bechstein (1831)
Bechstein 1831: Fool
Schlotthauer (1832)
Schlotthauer 1832: Fool
Douce (1833)
Douce 1833: Fool
Curmer (1858)
Curmer 1858: Fool

Footnotes: (1)

Beham: The fool and the lady fool
Beham: The fool and the lady fool
I've better quote William Willeford in "Fool & His Scepter: A Study of Clowns & Jesters & Their Audience" 1969: "Attached to the bauble of the European court jester was often a bladder formed into a clear representation of a phallus."

Up to Holbein's great dance of death