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Dance of Death and Bible Woodcuts, by Hans Holbein, a limited edition privately printed for the Sylvan Press, New York, 1947 (hardcover, very good condition)


Holbein's Dance of Death was originally published in Lyons in 1538.  In that same year, Holbein's celebrated designs to illustrate the Old Testament were published and are included in the second half of this book.  Overall in very good condition with slight scuffing to the top of the book, corners and spine. (Please see photos for more detail.)  Clean text with tight binding, former owners name, city and year on front flyleaf.  Book is approximately 11 inches tall and 8.5 inches wide, 150 pages. 


As described by 

"The Dance of Death by the German artist Hans Holbein (1497–1543) is a great, grim triumph of Renaissance woodblock printing. In a series of action-packed scenes Death intrudes on the everyday lives of thirty-four people from various levels of society — from pope to physician to ploughman. Death gives each a special treatment: skewering a knight through the midriff with a lance; dragging a duchess by the feet out of her opulent bed; snapping a sailor’s mast in two. Death, the great leveller, lets no one escape. In fact it tends to treat the rich and powerful with extra force. As such the series is a forerunner to the satirical paintings and political cartoons of the eighteenth century and beyond. For example, Death sneaks up behind the judge, who is ignoring a poor man to help a rich one, and snaps his staff, the symbol of his power, in two. A chain around Death’s neck suggests he is taking revenge on corrupt judges on behalf of those they have wrongfully imprisoned. In contrast, Death seems to come to the aid of the poor ploughman, by driving his horses for him and releasing him from a life of toil; the glowing church in the background implies this old man is on his way to heaven.


Holbein drew the woodcuts between 1523 and 1525, while in his twenties and based in the Swiss town of Basel. It would be another decade before he established himself in England, where he painted his most enduring masterpiece The Ambassadors (1533), in which two wealthy, powerful and worldly young men stand above (and oblivious to) an anamorphic skull that signals the ultimate vanity of all that wealth, power and worldliness."

Holbein's Dance of Death and Bible Woodcuts

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