The Gamblers

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

Death and a devil are fighting over the gamblers. It seems to me that Death is trying to blow out the candle - whereas the devil is throwing flames to light the candle.

In Holbein's great dance of death (to the left) Death is pushing the devil away - while the gambler to the right collects all the coins in the pool.

The accompanying text goes: »We üch die morgen vff stondt nach zufolgen der trunckenheit / vnd zu drincken biß zu dem obent / das ir von dem wyn dempffen.«.

This is from Isaiah 5,11 which in Luther's version sounds: »Weh denen, die des Morgens früh auf sind, dem Saufen nachzugehen, und sitzen bis in die Nacht, daß sie der Wein erhitzt«. In English: »Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!«

Isaiah is always good for a few fire-and-brimstone quotes, but in this particular place the prophet should be taken with a grain of salt: He starts chapter 5 by praising his friend who - in spite of his great work - got sour grapes in his vineyard. So wine is okay - within measure.

Various artists

Holbein Alphabet (1524)
Holbein Alphabet 1524: Holbein: X
Hans Schott (1536)
Hans Schott 1536: Schott: X
Heinrich Lödel (1849)
Heinrich Lödel 1849: Lödel: X
Douce Alphabet (1858)
Douce Alphabet 1858: Douce: X