Swedish Dances of Death

The dance of death in Ronneby
The dance of death in Ronneby
Det mänskliga lifwets obeständighet
Lifwets, Døde-Dands, Børn

Sweden does not seem to have had an independent tradition of dances of death. The frescoes in Malmö and Ronneby are relics from the Danish era, the many editions of Det mänskliga lifwets obeständighet from 1777 until 1838 were copies of the Danish Døde-Dands, while the many editions of »Samtal emellan döden och personer af åtskillige stånd« were translated from German, and maybe via a Danish translation.

But this was to change in 1850. During another wave of cholera,(1) no less than four different dances of death appeared. In order of increasing importance, they are:

1850, 1: Nio högst märkwärdiga samtal emellan döden och köpmannen, den girige, slösaren, tiggaren, soldaten, gubben, gumman, jungfrun samt jägaren

Nio högst märkwärdiga samtal
Nio samtal

"Nine most remarkable conversations between death and the merchant, the greedy, the spendthrift, the beggar, the soldier, the old man, the old woman, the maiden and the hunter".

This is a broadside ballad: A single sheet folded to produce eight pages.

The nine "remarkable" dialogues are copied verbatim from Det mänskliga lifwets obeständighet, i.e. the Swedish copies of the Danish Døde-Dands.

This explains the presence of "slösaren" (the spendthrift). The spendthrift was added to the Swedish Det mänskliga lifwets obeständighet and does not appear in the Danish original. In fact I don't recall seeing a spendthrift in any other dance of death. Other dances may criticize excessive eating, drinking or gambling, but the spendthrift is damned solely because he has wasted the fortune that was earned by his father and his grandfather.

The spendthrift appears right after the miser, who goes to Hell for not having spent his money. Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

See the external link.

1850, 2: Samtal emellan döden och personer af åtskillige stånd

"Conversations between Death and persons of various ranks".

This was the last printing of a book that had been published since 1760. The text was a Swedish translation of Nathanael Schlott's "new" text from 1701 for the dance of death in Lübeck.

It was translated from German, as the title indicated: »af tyskan öfwersatte«, but the various sources disagree as to whether the Swedish translation was inspired by the Danish translation from 1738, Den Lybekske Dødning=Dantz.

The Swedish translation skips four of the dialogues: Abbot, Carthusian monk, chaplain and hermit, so 20 participants are left. Neither the Danish nor the Swedish publication has illustrations

1850, 3: Döddansen

About 60 pages with illustrated dialogues between Death and his victims, drawn by Johann Julius Ringdahl (1813-1882) and engraved by the Dane Johan Frederik Rosenstand (1813-1887). Many of the pictures are signed by their two names, or just their shared initial: R.


The author is, as usual, anonymous, but should be Ulrik Matias Uddman (1828-1882), although some sources claim his name was J.D. Uddman.(2)

The frontispiece (pictured left) is very black, while the other 24 scenes are rendered in a much lighter style.

The day labourer

On the right, as an example, is the day labourer. Death comes in the guise of a builder and orders the day labourer to lay down his "såg och bila", i.e. saw and broad-axe.


Death (i skepnad af en byggherre).

Skuggan länges, - solen lutar
Till sin nedgång, - om en stund
Du ditt dagsarbete slutar
Med en lång och rolig blund.
Lägg ifrån dig såg och bila,
Helgdagsafton inna är;
Må de trötta lemmer hwila
Ut från mödor och besvär!

The day labourer

Death (in the shape of a builder).

The shadow lengthens, - the sun inclines
to its setting, - In a moment
you end your day's work
with a long and peaceful slumber.
Put down the saw and axe.
The holiday eve has come;
May the weary limbs rest
from toil and trouble.

1850, 4: Den sista färden eller Död-dansen. Läsning för alla stånd och åldrar. Med tjugufyra lithografierade teckningar

Den sista färden
Wallander, Den sista färden
Den sista färden
Wallander, Den sista färden

"The Last Travel or the Dance of Death. Reading for all classes and ages. With twenty-four lithographed drawings".

With text by the folk author August Blanche (1811-1868) and lithographs by Josef Wilhelm Wallander (1821-1888).

The frontispiece (right) is a copy of a similar image by Christian von Mechel.

The beggar
Wallander, Den sista färden
The miser
Wallander, Den sista färden

Then the dance itself starts, which, as promised in the title, consists of 24 scenes — from the pope and the king over the beggar (left) and ending with the graveyard digger.

The lithographs are meticulous and well executed. Some of the scenes, such as the miser (right) are inspired by Hans Holbein. For each scene there is a dialogue on two pages.

Döddansen, 1853

Spinster maid

This thin booklet was published in Jönköping in 1853 by J. A. Björk, and again in 1858 by D. F. Bergman.

The cover (left) shows the main protagonist, and then there are six pages that are copies of the Danish Lorenz Frølich. The pictures are good copies and the German text is also translated.

Here's the spinster maid as an example:

   Hon war en Jungfru, och skön,
Men stolt hon afslog hwarje bön
Af friarne: "Det blir derwid!
Den rätte kommer i sin tid."

   Så wäntar hon i åratal,
Tills åldern kom, med sjukdomsqwal;
Då sig en friara infann:
Måntro han war den rätta, han?

   She was a maid, and beautiful,
but proudly she refused every pleading
of the suitors: "That will be all!
The right one will come in due time."

   Thus she waits for years,
till age came, with pangs of sickness;
Then a suitor appeared:
I wonder if he was the right one?

The day labourer

Then follows a single image, the day labourer, which is copied from "Döddansen" from 1850 (further up this page). The image is well copied, but the text is completely different.

At the end come five pages of very short dialogues between Death and his victims.

Johan Pehr Lundström

Lindström, Lundström

Johan Peter Lundström (1783-1868) was a printer and newspaper publisher in Jönköping.

He published many catchpenny prints with biblical motifs, and also the image on the left, which is a reverse copy of an engraving published by Remondini (right).

Carl Jacob Lindström

Lindström, Escutcheon
Lindström, Lindström
Lindström, The fool
Lindström, Lindström

Carl Jacob Lindström was born in Linköping in 1800. He studied at the art academy in Stockholm, but when a barmaid came down with a son who was named after him, he moved to Rome in 1822/1823.

He later settled in Naples, where he died in the 1840s.

He has drawn 24 scenes for a dance of death (see external link). Many of them (but far from all) are copies of the false Bewick. The picture on the left with the two dead men is copied after Death's Escutcheon, and the picture on the right after the fool.

External Links

Further Information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

According to Sven-Ove Arvidsson, De svenska koleraepidemierna, 1972, there were six epidemics of cholera in Sweden in the 1800s, namely in the years 1834, 1850, 1853, 1854-1859, 1886 and 1873,

It was common then for writers and artists to be anonymous.. Ulrik Uddman also published a collection of poems in 1880, "Smärre Samlade Dikter" (i.e.: Smaller Collected Poems), where he called himself "U.U.".

Incidentally, Uddman was trained as a "Sockerbagare", i.e. confectioner. The biggest difference between a "sugar baker" and a pastry chef working at a "konditorei" was that the former was not allowed to serve on the premises.