The Pope

© The Trustees of the British Museum
Mouse over to remove letter Copyleft JMJ
Holbein's dance of death, the Pope.
Holbein Proofs, Pope
Mouse over for animation Copyleft by JMJ

The pope with the triple crown is dragged away by two deaths. The fact that the pope is about to die like everybody else is not so extraordinary in itself, but the little devil shows clearly that the pope is in for a long travel in the downward direction.

Holbein also used devils in his dance of death. On the picture to the left there's a devil in the top left corner, another devil comes flying with a letter of indulgence and the figure below the pope's armrest is equipped with devil's wings. Many of Holbein's imitators left out the devils (see example below to the right) — thus making it possible to sell the book to Catholics. Christian de Mechel even made two versions: One with and one without devils.

The accompanying text for this letter goes: »Und du bist verwundt wie wir. Du bist vns glich worden. Dyn hoffart ist herab gezogen zu der hell«.

Birckmann: The pope without devils.
Birckmann, The Pope

The quote is Isaiah 14,10-11, which Luther renders thus: »"Auch du bist schwach geworden wie wir, und es geht dir wie uns." Deine Pracht ist herunter zu den Toten gefahren«. In English: »All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee«.

Copy by Hollar
Hollar (Alphabet), Hollar: A

As the three texts show, Hebrew "Sheol" may mean "Hell" or "Realm of the Dead" — depending on the person who translates.

To the left is a copy designed by Hollar (without devil).

Various artists

Holbein Alphabet (1524)
Holbein Alphabet 1524: Holbein: B
Wolfgang Köpphel (1526)
Wolfgang Köpphel 1526: Köpfel: B
Hans Schott (1536)
Hans Schott 1536: Schott: B
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch: B
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch: B
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch: B
Hans Schott (1545)
Hans Schott 1545: Dennmaerckische: B
Froschauer (1545)
Froschauer 1545: Pope
Froschauer (1584)
Froschauer 1584: Iohannis Iezleri: B
Hollar Alphabet (1651?)
Hollar Alphabet 1651?: Hollar: A
Heinrich Lödel (1849)
Heinrich Lödel 1849: Lödel: B
Douce Alphabet (1858)
Douce Alphabet 1858: Douce: B

Up to Holbein's Dance of Death Alphabet