Dance of Death

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) Imagines Mortis (Lugduni: Sub scuto Coloniensi, 1547). The epigrams are attributed to Jean de Vauzelles and Gilles Corrozet. Illustration (C4v) signed by the woodcutter “HL” (i.e. Hans Lützelburger 1495?-1526). Rebound in 1987 by Jamie Kamph. Gift of Elmer Adler. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) 2004-3458N


Holbein’s designs were originally cut and printed in 1526 for a dance of death alphabet and then, included in an Old Testament. In 1538, forty-one of the blocks were published under the title Les simulachres & historiées faces de la mort avtant elegamtment pourtraictes, with a bible quote at the top and a poem by Gilles Corozet below. The book was banned but new editions continued to appear every few years.

This 1547 expanded edition includes fifty-seven woodcuts. The artist of the new plates remains unidentified. They are interspersed with Holbein’s designs, with no explanation as to why another artist’s work was included. In addition, three of the plates in the Princeton volume, including the title page, have contemporary hand coloring. Here are a few samples.


Thanks to John Delaney for identifying the instrument hanging at the center as an armillary sphere, described by Ptolemy as a zodiacal instrument of six rings, designed to determine the locations of celestial objects. For more, see