Frankfurt, Joh. B. Andrea and H. Hort, 1725, 4to, Contemporary mottled calf gilt, hinges repaired, title within hand-coloured engraved allegorical border, with 42 full-page contemporary hand-coloured engraved illustrations of the Dance of Death, all but 2 with additional watercolour and wash architectural or decorative borders, one uncoloured engraved illustration (“Memento Mori”).
An Extraordinary Coloured Copy of the famous ‘Dance of Death’.
The Dance of Death series displays a very quick and lively skeleton leading someone away in a dance step. The partner’s social station is instantly recognizable, but death is indifferent to rank: the death figure is just as cheerful leading off the Queen or the Pope as the Merchant or the Beggar. While the conventions may have originated in Medieval Pageants, their popularity grew and flourished in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Basel in Switzerland hosted a thriving printing industry, and the Dance of Death series painted in fresco in the 15th century on the walls of the Predigerkirche influenced several printed editions, notably Holbein’s.
Yet the copies produced by the printer and engraver Matthaeus Merian are considered the most faithful renderings of the Basel frescoes. The frescoes were destroyed (deemed “an eyesore” by the town council) in 1805.Merian made his drawings from the Basel frescoes in 1616, and published minimal versions of them in 1621 and 1625. Merian augmented each image in the 1649 suite with sky, clouds and background detail. This edition of 1725 is particularly attractive, richly engraved and printed on heavy paper. Merian’s Adam and Eve plate, and his famously surreal death’s-head self-portrait plate appear here.
This book was frequently reprinted and copied for the succeeding 150 years, becoming the most instantly recognizable of all Baroque editions of the Dance of Death.