The first person to reproduce the painting, was the preacher and juror Ludewig Suhl (1753 - 1819) who made the watercolours shown here.
These watercolours were published as copperplates in a book with the idiomatic title: "Der Todtentanz nach einem 320 Jahre alten Gemaehlde in der St. Marienkirche zu Lübeck auf einer Reihe von acht Kupfertafeln, wobey zugleich im Hintergrunde perspectivische Vorstellungen der Stadt Lübeck nach verschiedenen Theilen und Seiten, der Mecklenburgischen und Holsteinischen Grenzen, der Trave, ihrer Mündung und der Ostsee. Unter jeder Tafel stehen hochteutsche Reime von Nathanael Schlott, die älteren niedersächsischen Reime sind wieder mit abgedruckt so viele noch davon zu finden waren, wobey zugleich einige Erläuterungen über diesen Todtentanz und ähnliche Vorstellungen überhaupt von Ludewig Suhl. Lübeck. 1783". The book was published by Christian Gottfried Donatius - the name of the engraver is unknown.
Suhl was probably also the first to publish the Low German text from 1463. He states rather cryptically that "some chronicles have only retained the latter half",(1) which makes one wonder why Suhl didn't just choose to quote from one of the other chronicles that had the entire text.
The truth, of course, is that the only one who has ever written down the old text, was Jacob von Melle, and that the text, which Suhl published was the same that von Melle had handed over — and in the same jumbled sequence (see the page about Wilhelm Mantels for details). However, in contrast to von Melle Suhl has added Low German headlines to the verses, e.g. »De Dot to deme Arstede«.
Then Suhl goes over to the history of the painting, but he quickly concludes that the chronicles tell us nothing about the name of the painter. All we have is the signature: Px. Ho. 1463.(2)
Suhl doesn't think "Ho." can stand for anything else than the famous Hans Holbein, and he relates a tall tale from the English court about how Henry VIII once had to save Holbein from a combative nobleman. Then Suhl realizes that since Holbein was first born in 1498, i.e. 35 years after the painting was completed, it could hardly have been him. Neither could it have been Holbein's father, who according to Suhl was not a real artist, "but rather a common drunken worker who had moved from Augsburg".
All that can be added to this is that nobody else but Suhl has ever reported this "Px. Ho. 1463". Jacob von Melle and Nathanael Schlott don't mention it, and it is not found in the later photographs (to the right).
At the back of the booklet are eight copper engravings that show the dance along with the "new" High German text from 1701.
All in all Suhl has made a good job reproducing the painting, and in particular we can be glad that the duke still existed at that time (picture to the left). He disappeared in 1799, and when other artists reproduce the duke, they are probably just copying Suhl.
There are many small deviations and errors, which is a good help when determining whether later reproductions of the painting are independent witnesses or are based on Suhl. Most notably are the three little figures to the left of the usurer (picture right).
On the present site, Suhl's engravings are used to illustrate the "new" text from 1701 by Nathanael Schlott.
Along with the High German text I include the rather free translations from Thomas Nugent's book: Travels through Germany. The Danish version of these pages instead include a Danish translation by Lydert Höyer from 1738.
The dance starts with a solemn admonition.
Footnotes: (1) (2)
Suhl: »Vermuthlich waren die alten zum Theil ganz verloschen oder doch sehr unleserlich geworden: einige Chroniken haben nur die leztere Hälfte noch aufbehalten. Diesen Rest, so vollständig ich ihn finden konnte, habe ich hier genau abdrucken lassen« (first page).
Unsre Chroniken schweigen von ihm und die alten Bücher der Marienkirche, aus welchen ich etwas, wenn nicht bey 1463, doch bey den übrigen Jahren der Renovation vermuthete, geben auch nicht die geringste Belehrung. Alles beruhet folglich auf der Unterschrift:
Px. Ho. 1463.