The Canon(1)

© The Trustees of the British Museum
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Holbein's dance of death. The canon's cape is made of square pieces of fur laced with animals' tails.
Holbein Proofs, Canon
Mouse over for animation Copyleft by JMJ

Death is disguised as a server. This may be a device that shows us that the canon(1) dies while at work.

The canon is dressed in a cape of fur made of square pieces of fur, adorned with animals' tails, just like he is in Holbein's great dance of death and in Basel's dance of death. In the same manner, references are made in the text to the canons fancy cloak in London's dance of deathAmys of gris«) and in Copenhagen's dance of death.

Death carries an iron pot with holy water and sprinkler (aspergillum). In Holbein's dance of death (picture below to the right), the priest is assisted by Death, while a human server carries the holy water.

Holbein's dance of death. The priest is followed by a helper with a pot of holy water.
Holbein Proofs, Priest

The accompanying text for this letter goes: »Sy flyssen sich all des geytz von dem minsten bis zu dem mersten / Sy betriegen all von dem propheten biß zu dem priester«.

This is from Jeremiah 6,13 which in Luther's version sounds: »Denn sie gieren alle, klein und groß, nach unrechtem Gewinn, und Propheten und Priester gehen alle mit Lüge um«. In English: »For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely«.

Various artists

Holbein Alphabet (1524)
Holbein Alphabet 1524: Holbein: L
Wolfgang Köpphel (1526)
Wolfgang Köpphel 1526: Köpfel: L
Hans Schott (1536)
Hans Schott 1536: Schott: L
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch: L
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch L and P
Hans Schott (1537)
Hans Schott 1537: Kreüterbuch: L
Hans Schott (1540)
Hans Schott 1540: Alchoran: L + I
Hans Schott (1545)
Hans Schott 1545: Dennmaerckische: L
Heinrich Lödel (1849)
Heinrich Lödel 1849: Lödel: L
Douce Alphabet (1858)
Douce Alphabet 1858: Douce: L

Footnotes: (1)

Canon...: a priest attached to a cathedral. The canons are so called because they lead a rule bound life, "vita canonica".

Up to Holbein's Dance of Death Alphabet