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Title: The Dances of Death - Through the Various Stages of Human Life wherein the - Capriciousness of that Tyrant is Exhibited
Author: Holbein, John
Language: English
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[Illustration: _Mors Sceptra ligonebus æquat._]

                        _LE TRIOMPHE DE LA MORT_

                       _Gravé d’aprés les Dessins

                              JEAN HOLBEIN

                              DAVID DEUCHAR

                             _Deuchar fecit_

                            DANCES OF DEATH,
                              IS EXHIBITED
                      _IN FORTY-SIX COPPER PLATES_;
                                DONE FROM
                          The Original Designs,

                           _BY JOHN HOLBEIN_,

                       IN THE TOWN HOUSE OF BASIL.

                         TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED,

       _Descriptions of each Plate in French and English, with the
           Scripture Text from which the Designs were taken_.

                      ETCHED BY D. DEUCHAR, F.A.S.




JOHN or HANS HOLBEIN was born at Basil in 1498, and died at London of
the plague in 1554, aged 56. This admirable Painter was instructed in
the art by his father JOHN HOLBEIN. In the early part of his life, he
pursued his studies with incessant assiduity; and being possessed of an
elevated genius, his progress was exceedingly rapid; so that he soon
became far superior to his instructor. He painted equally well in oil,
water colours, and in fresco; and although he had never practised the art
of painting in miniature till he resided in England, yet he afterwards
carried it to its highest perfection.

The invention of Holbein was surprisingly fruitful, and often poetical;
his execution was remarkably quick, and his application indefatigable.
His pencil was exceedingly delicate; his coloring had a wonderful
degree of force; he finished his pictures with exquisite neatness; and
his carnations were life itself. He excelled all his cotemporaries in
portrait, and his genuine works are always distinguishable by the true,
round, lively imitation of flesh visible in them, and also by the amazing
delicacy of his finishing.

The genius and excellence of this master were sufficiently shewn in the
historical style, by two celebrated compositions which he painted in the
Hall of the Steel-yard Company; of which the subjects were the Triumph of
Riches, and the condition of Poverty: these two are universally admired
for the richness of the colouring, as also for the strong character
of the figures through the whole. Frederick Zucchero, on seeing these
pictures, expressed the highest esteem for Holbein, and even copied them
in Indian ink.

In the town of Basil he painted a picture of our Saviour’s Sufferings, as
well as a Dance of Peasants.

Abbé du Bos observes, that the altar-piece at Basil, painted by Holbein,
may be compared with the best productions of Raphael’s disciples for
composition, and preferred to them with respect to colouring; that he
shews a greater degree of knowledge of the chiaro-scuro, and particular
incidents of light that are truly marvellous. But that which contributed
most to raise and establish the reputation of this celebrated Painter was
Death’s Dance, designed and painted by him in the town-house of Basil; a
work truly admirable, and which alone was sufficient to render the name
of Holbein immortal.

Sandrart relates, that he heard Rubens acknowledge, that he had learned
a great deal from the pictures of Death’s Dance; and he recommended them
strongly to the study of many of his own profession.

The learned Erasmus was so much struck by the wonderful display of genius
exhibited in this great work, that he conceived a strong friendship
for Holbein; sat to him for his picture; and recommended him to Sir
Thomas Moore, the then Lord Chancellor of England: and to this incident
our country is indebted for the many excellent performances which it
afterwards received from the pencil of Holbein.

The designs for Death’s Dance were cut in wood by Holbein, and published
with the original texts from which they were taken; from that work the
following plates were done. They contain the whole of Death’s Dance, with
borders and decorations; to which are added, a description of each plate
in French and English, and a portrait of Holbein.

[Illustration: _CREATIO MUNDI_

_Formauit Dominus DEUS hominem de limo terræ, ad imaginem suam creauit
illum, masculum & fæminam creauit eos. GEN. I. & II._]









At the side of a stone table, placed vertically, Holbein appears behind
a curtain, which Death opens to him, to place before his eyes the great
Spectacle of the Scenes of human Life that he is going to sketch. This
is also expressed by an heap of the attributes of grandeur, dignities,
riches, arts, and sciences, mixed with death-heads, which Death is
trampling under his feet. Below is an epitaph from Lucan—_Mors sceptra
ligonibus æquat. Death confounds the sceptre with the spade._ This table
is topped with a medallion, with the portrait of Holbein. Two Genii
support this medallion; the one surrounded with a garland of flowers, the
other lets fly a butterfly, whilst a third is amusing himself with making
soap bubbles. What these allegories mean is easily understood.


À côté d’une table de pierre posée verticalement, Holbein paroît derrière
un rideau que la Mort lui ouvre, pour mettre sous ses yeux le grand
Spectacle des Scènes de la Vie humaine qu’il va dessiner. Ce qui est
encore désigné par un amas d’attributs de la grandeur, des dignités, des
richesses, d’arts, de sciences, entremêlés de têtes de morts, et que la
Mort elle-même foule à ses pieds. On lit au has cette épigraphe tirée
de Lucain:—_Mors sceptra ligonibus æquat, La Mort confond la sceptre &
la bêche._ Cette table est surmountée d’un médaillon avec le portrait
de Holbein. Deux Génies soutiennent ce médaillon; l’un l’entoure d’une
guirlan de defleurs, & l’autrelaisse échapper un papillon, tandis qu’un
troisième s’amuse à faire des bulles de savon. On sent assez ce que
signifient ces deux allégories.


Holbein has begun the scenes of life by that which had such influence on
all the rest. The Mother of the human race holds in her right hand, the
fatal apple, which she has just received from the serpent with a young
man’s head; and Adam, at the same time, is plucking another, enticed by
the solicitations of the too credulous Eve, who shews him the one she has

[Illustration: _Quia audisti vocem uxoris tuæ, et comedisti de ligno, ex
quo præceperam tibi ne comederes, &c. Gen. iii. 17._]


Holbein a commencé ces scènes de la vie par celle qui eut tant
d’influence sur toutes les autres. La Mère du genre humain, tient dans sa
main droite, la pomme fatale qu’elle vient de recevoir du serpent à tête
de jeune homme, & Adam en cueille en même tems une autre, excité par les
sollicitations de la trop crédule Eve, qui lui montre celle qu’elle a


Our first parents, driven out by the Angel, are flying from the
terrestrial Paradise, preceded by Death, who is playing on the fiddle,
and shews by dancing the joy he feels for his triumph.

[Illustration: _Emisit eum Dominus Deus de Paradiso voluptatis, ut
operaretur terram, de qua sumptus est. Gen. iii. 23._]


Nos premiers Parens chassés par l’Ange, s’enfuyent du Paradis terrestre
précédés de la Mort, qui joue de la guitare, & démontre en dansant la
joie qu’elle ressent de son triomphe.


Holbein, to mark at once the species of labour which is the lot of man,
and that which falls to the share of the woman, represents Adam employed
in rooting up a tree, along with Death, who helps him with all his might;
and at a little distance Eve suckling her child, and holding a distaff.

[Illustration: _Maledicta terram in opere tuo, in laboribus comedes
cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ donet revertaris, &c. Gen. iii. 14._]


Holbein, pour marquer en même tems le genre de travail qui est le
partage de l’homme, & celui qui est le partage de la femme, représente
Adam occupé à déraciner un arbre, avec la Mort qui l’aide de toutes
ses forces, & un peu plus loin, Eve allaitant son enfant & tenant une


A cardinal and three bishops are assisting at the ceremony; Death is
there also under the figure of two skeletons, one of which is dressed
in cardinal’s robes, the other embraces the holy Father, with the right
hand, and is leaning on a crutch with the left.

[Illustration: _Moriatur sacerdos magnus. Josh. xx. 6._

_Et episcopatum ejus accipiat alter. Psal. cviii. 8._]


Un cardinal & trois evêques assistent à cette cérémonie; la Mort s’y
trouve aussi sous la figure de deux squelettes, dont l’un est revêtu des
habits de cardinal; l’autre embrasse le St. Père de la main droite, et
s’appuie de la gauche sur une béquille.


A messenger has just presented to him, on his knees, the bull that
constitutes him a cardinal. Death seizes this moment to make his
appearance, and seems to want to turn his hat upon his head. The
messenger is holding in his right hand a tin box, hung by a strap, in
which he had, no doubt, carried the bull, which the new made cardinal
holds in his right hand with the seals appended to it.

[Illustration: _Væ qui justificatis impium pro muneribus, et justitiam
justi aufertis ab eo. Isa. v. 23._]


Un messager vient de lui remettre, en faisant une génuflexion, la
bulle qui le fait cardinal. La Mort saisit ce moment pour paroître, et
semble vouloir lui faire tourner son chapeau sur la tête. Le messager
tient de la main droite une boîte de fer-blanc, pendu à une courroie,
et dans laquelle il avoit sans doute apporté la bulle, que le cardinal
nouvellement créé tient à la main droite avec les sceaux y affixé.


This prince, as he is coming out of his palace with his courtiers, is
accosted by a poor woman, who implores his help for herself and the
infant she holds by the hand; but he, insensible to the distresses of
the widow and orphan, refuses to listen, and is turning aside with a
disdainful air to his courtiers. Death at this instant appears; and his
severe aspect announces, that he is just about to make him repent his

[Illustration: _Princeps induetur mœrore, et quiescere faciam superbiam
potentium. Ezek. vii. 24, 27._]


Ce prince sortant de son palais avec ses courtisans, est abordé par
une pauvre femme qui implore son secours, pour elle & pour l’enfant
qu’elle tient par la main; mais insensible aux besoins de la veuve & de
l’orphelin, il refuse de l’écouter, & se tourne d’un air dédaigneux du
côté de ses courtisans. La Mort paroît dans cet instant, & son air sévère
annonce qu’elle va le faire répentir de la dureté.


With an air of tranquillity and resignation, this worthy Pastor follows
Death, who is leading him away laughing and dancing, whilst some
shepherds, forgetting their flocks, are wandering here and there through
the country, in despair for the loss of their chief. The sun, now ready
to set, is just about to leave in darkness the ill-fated flocks, who,
having no longer a conductor, will soon become the prey of wolves and
other ravenous animals.

[Illustration: _Percutiam pastorem, et dispergentur oves gregis. Matt.
xxvi. 31._]


D’un air de tranquillité & de résignation ce bon Pasteur suit la Mort,
qui l’emmène en riant et en dansant, tandis que quelques bergers,
oubliant leur troupeau, errent çà & là dans la campagne, désespérés de
la perte de leur chef. Le soleil prêt à se coucher, va laisser dans les
ténèbres ce malheureux troupeau, qui n’ayant plus de conducteur, sera
bientôt la proie du loup & des autres bêtes féroces.


At the moment he is entering the church, Death accosts him; and, shewing
him an hour-glass run down, announces that his hour is come. He appears
to be a dignitary of the first rank; for he is followed by a page, a
huntsman, who carries a falcon on his fist, and a fool.

[Illustration: _Ecce appropinquat hora. Matth. xxvi. 45._]


Au moment où il entre dans l’église, la Mort l’aborde, & en lui montrant
un sable écoulé, lui annonce que son heure est venue. Il paroît que c’est
un dignitaire du premier rang, puis qu’il est suivi d’un page, d’un
veneur qui porte un faucon sur le poing, & d’un bouffon.


As he is just stepping into his convent, with his Christmas-box and
wallet, Death stops him at the door; and deaf to his cries, as well as
regardless of the fright he throws him into, drags him with all his might
by the cloak, and renders all the good Friar’s attempts to disengage
himself ineffectual.

[Illustration: _Sedentes in tenebris & umbra Mortis: vinctos in
mendicitate. Psal. cvi. 10._]


Pret à rentrer dans son couvent avec sa tire-lire & sa besace, la Mort
l’arrête à la porte, & toute aussi sourde à ses cris, qu’insensible à
l’effroi qu’elle lui cause, elle le tire de toutes ses forces par son
capuchon, & rend impuissans les efforts du bon Frère pour se dérober de
ses mains.


Death, not contented with stripping this fat Prelate of his crosier,
which he is carrying in triumph on his shoulder, and his mitre, with
which he is dressing himself, is dragging him away without pity. He
raises his breviary with one hand, and with the other is making some vain
efforts to push him off.

[Illustration: _Ipse morietur, quia non habuit disciplinam, et in
multitudine stultitiæ decipietur. Prov. v. 23._]


La Mort non contente d’avoir arraché à ce gros Prélat sa crosse, qu’elle
porte en triomphe sur son épaule, & sa mitre, dont elle s’est affublée,
le tire encore impitoyablement après elle; il élève d’une main son
breviaire, & fait de l’autre de vains efforts pour la repousser.


Death ludicrously hooded with several flowing plumes, and robed in a
kind of gown, carries out of her convent an Abbess, whom he is dragging
with all his might by her scapulary. The reverend Mother with regret is
leaving life and the honours she enjoys; and expresses, by the alteration
of her features and by her cries, the fright that Death has produced in
her soul. Behind her, under the gate of the convent, appears a young Nun,
strangely agitated with terror and grief.

[Illustration: _Laudavi magis mortuos, quam viventes. Eccl. iv. 2._]


La Mort ridiculement coiffée de diverses plumes flottantes, & vêtue d’une
espèce de mante, emmène hors de son couvent une Abbesse qu’elle tire de
toutes ses forces par son scapulaire. La révérendissime Mère quitte à
regret la vie & les honneurs dont elle jouit, & exprime par l’altération
de ses traits & par ses cris, l’effroi que la Mort a jeté dans son
âme. On voit derrière elle, sous la porte de l’abbaye, une jeune Nonne
vivement agitée par la crainte & par la douleur.


As he is preaching to his congregation, Death, who is behind him with a
stole about his neck, holds over his head the bone of a dead body, and
by shewing it to the assembly, preaches to them, undoubtedly, the most
eloquent of all sermons.

[Illustration: _Væ qui dicitis malum bonum, et bonum malum: ponentes
tenebras lucem, et lucem tenebras: ponentes amarum in dulce, & dulce in
amarum. Esaiæ v. 20._]


Tandis qu’il prêche son auditoire, la Mort qui est derrière lui, une
étole au cou, élève par-dessus sa tête un os de mort, & en la montrant à
l’assemblée lui fait sans doute le plus éloquent de tous les sermons.


He appears carrying the Holy Sacrament along the street to a dying man.
Death marches before him, carrying the lantern and a little bell. He is
followed by a boy, who carries the holy water and a taper, and by a young
woman with a mournful aspect, who seems to have come in quest of him.

[Illustration: _Sum quidem & ego mortalis homo. Sap. vii. 1._]


On le voit dans la rue porter le St. Sacrement à un moribond. La Mort
marche devant lui, et porte la lanterne & la clochette. Il est suivi d’un
garçon qui porte l’eau bénite & un cierge, & d’une jeune femme affligée
qui paroît être venue le chercher.


Death is leading to him a sick old man, whose urine he is presenting to
him in a phial, and appears saying, in a jeering manner, Dost thou think
that thou art able to save a man whom I have already in my power?

[Illustration: _Medice curate ipsum. Lucæ iv. 23._]


La Mort lui amène un vieillard malade dont elle lui présente l’urine dans
une phiole, & paroît lui dire d’un air moqueur; Crois-tu pouvoir sauver
un homme que je tiens déjà en ma puissance?


He has his eyes fixed on a sphere hanging from the ceiling, and appears
profoundly engaged in the vain chimeras of judicial astrology, while
Death comes to turn his attention upon a death-head, which he is
presenting to him in a most grotesque attitude, seeming to say, in a
jeering tone, Could thy sublime art inform thee, that I was coming to pay
thee this visit to-day?

[Illustration: _Indica mihi, si nosti, omnia sciebas. Tunc quod
nasciturus esses? & numerum dierum tuorum noveras? Job xxxviii. 18, 21._]


Il a les yeux fixés sur une sphère suspendue au plancher, & paroît
profondément occupé des vaines chimères de l’astrologie judiciaire,
tandis que la Mort vient tourner son attention sur une tête de mort,
qu’elle lui présente dans l’attitude la plus grotesque, & semble lui dire
d’un ton railleur; Ton art sublime a-t-il pu t’apprendre que je viendrois
te rendre aujourd’hui cette visite?


Seated on a throne, and holding in his hand the sword of state, he is
attentively listening to an advocate pleading in a soothing tone, against
an unfortunate peasant, who trembling waits, in the most suppliant
posture, the decree that is to determine his fate. Death at this moment
displays all his power; he proudly takes possession of the bottom of
the throne, and is carelessly leaning his arm on the Monarch’s crown.
The angry aspect, with which the Emperor views the advocate and his two
clients, who are seen standing with their heads uncovered, is a happy
presage for the poor oppressed peasant. At the foot of the throne are
lying the sceptre and globe of the empire, placed on a cushion. Death has
set down his fatal glass beside these attributes of grandeur, which he
can cause to vanish at his pleasure.

[Illustration: _Dispone domui tuæ, quia morieris tu, et non vives. Isaiæ
xxxviii. 1._

_Ibi morieris, et ibi erit currus gloriæ tuæ. Isaiæ xxii. 18._]


Assis sur son trône, & tenant dans sa main le glaive de l’empire, il
écoute attentivement un avocat qui plaide d’un ton doucereux contre un
malheureux paysan, tandis que celui-ci attend en tremblant, & dans la
posture la plus suppliante, l’arrêt qui doit décider de son sort. La Mort
développe en ce moment toute sa puissance; elle occupé fièrement la fond
du trône, & appuie nonchalemment son brass sur la couronne du Monarque.
L’air irrité avec lequel le Chef de l’Empire regarde l’avocat & ses deux
cliens qu’on voit, la tête découverte, à côté de leur défenseur, est
d’un heureux présage pour le pauvre opprimé. On voit au bas du trône le
sceptre & le globe de l’empire posés sur un coussin. La Mort a placé son
sable fatal à côté de ces atributs d’une grandeur qu’elle peut faire
évanouir à son gré.


He is seen, eating in state, under a canopy, and served by the officers
of the court. Death is come to put himself in the number, and is at this
instant performing the office of cupbearer. He is pouring out drink to
the Monarch, who holds out to him his great cup, which he is now probably
to empty for the last time. The Prince holds in his left hand a paper,
without doubt a petition, that has just been presented to him.

[Illustration: _Sicut et Rex hodie est, et cras morietur. Eccle. x. 12._

_Nemo enim ex regibus aliud habuit._]


On le voit manger en cérémonie, assis sous un dais & servi par ses grands
officiers; la Mort est venue se mettre du nombre, & fait en ce moment
l’office d’echanson. Elle verse à boire au Monarque qui lui tend sa large
coupe, qu’il va vraisemblablement vuider pour la dernière fois. Ce Prince
tient de la main gauche un papier, sans doute un placet qu’on vient de
lui remettre.


In the midst of a pompous march, in the court of a great palace, Death,
who seems here to do the office of gentleman-usher, leads this Princess
to the brink of a grave, and shews her the bounds within which all her
grandeur is to be confined.

[Illustration: _Gradientes in superbia potest Deus humiliare. Daniel iv.


Au milieu d’une marche pompeuse, dans la cour d’un vaste palais, la Mort
qui paroît faire ici l’office d’ecuyer, amène cette Princesse jusqu’au
bord d’une fosse sépulcrale, pour lui faire voir le terme auquel ses
grandeurs viendront aboutir.


Death, arrayed in the habits of folly, drags away violently this young
Princess, just as she is coming out of her palace to enjoy the pleasure
of walking. With terror painted in her countenance, she is making the air
resound with mournful cries; the maid of honour, who accompanies her,
agitated with the most violent despair, is imploring the aid of Heaven,
while the buffoon is making vain efforts to defend her against Death, who
holds aloft his glass, to shew that the fatal hour is come.

[Illustration: _Mulieres opulentæ surgite, & audite vocem meam: post dies
enim & annum, vos conturbabimini confidentes. Isaiæ xxxii. 9, 10._]


La Mort revêtue des habits de la folie, entraine avec violence cette
jeune Princesse, au moment qu’elle sort de son palais pour jouïr du
plaisir de la promenade; la terreur peinte sur le visage elle faite
rétentir les airs de ses cris douloureux; la dame d’honneur qui
l’accompagne, agitée du plus violent désespoir, implore le secours du
Ciel, tandis que le bouffon de la Reine fait de vains efforts pour la
défendre contre la Mort, qui tient son sable élevé pour faire voir que
l’heure fatale est arrivée.


Death, in the shape of two hideous skeletons, comes to surprise her
as she is lying softly on an elegant bed. One of the skeletons awakes
her with the sound of a violin, while the other is pulling off her
bed-clothes, making frightful grimaces.

[Illustration: _De lectulo, super quem ascendisti, non descendes, sed
morte morieris. 4 Reg. i. 4._]


Sous la figure de deux sequelettes hideux, la Mort vient la surprendre,
mollement couchée sur un lit élégant. L’un des squelettes la réveille au
son d’un violon, tandis que l’autre lui arrache sa couverture en faisant
d’effroyables grimaces.


She is wholly taken up with the care of her dress, and is receiving with
eagerness, from the hands of one of her maids, a very rich robe with a
gold chain. Death comes to derange her toilet, and has already, without
being perceived, slipped round her neck a collar made of small bones.

[Illustration: _Ducunt in bonis dies suos, et in puncto ad inferna
descendunt. Job xxi. 13._]


Elle n’est occupée que du soin de sa parure, & reçoit avec empressement,
des mains d’une de ses femmes, un habillement très-riche avec une chaîne
d’or. La Mort vient troubler sa toilette, & lui a déjà passé autour du
cou, sans qu’elle s’en soit encore aperçue, un collier fait de petits os
de mort.


In the first transports of an happy union, this tender couple appears
so wholly taken up with each other, and so inebriated with their mutual
happiness, that they neither see nor hear. Death, who is marching before
them, beating furiously on a little drum, is soon to give a cruel
interruption to their enjoyments.

[Illustration: _Sola mors me et te separaverit. Ruth i. 17._]


Dans les premiers transports d’une douce union, ces deux tendres époux
paroissent tellement occupés l’un de l’autre, ils sont si enivrés de leur
bonheur mutuel, qu’ils ne voient ni n’entendent la Mort qui marche devant
eux, en frappant vigoureusement sur un petit tambour, & qui va leur
donner bientôt un cruel trouble-fête.


There appears in this young and beautiful recluse, a striking mixture
of gallantry and devotion. On her knees before a little altar, with her
rosary in her hand, she is amorously listening to the songs which a young
man, seated on a bed, addresses to her, accompanying them with his lute.
Death comes to put out the tapers burning on the altar, and to change
into sadness the pleasures of this conversation.

[Illustration: _Est via, quæ videtur homini justa: novissima autem ejus
deducunt hominem ad mortem. Prov. xiv. 12._]


L’on voit dans cette jeune & belle recluse un mélange frappant de
galanterie & de dévotion. Agenouillée devant un petit autel, son rosaire
à la main, elle écoute amoureusement les chansons qu’un jeune homme,
assis sur son lit, lui adresse en les accompagnant de son luth. La Mort
vient éteindre les cierges allumés sur l’autel, & changer en amertume les
douceurs de ce tête-à-tête.


Death here adds to his usual employment that of avenger of oppressed
vassals. He is throwing with violence at the head of this Lord, his
coat of arms, the dear object of his pride, under the weight of which
he is ready to make him fall. He appears trampling under foot a flail,
to mark his inhumanity to labourers, a class of society so necessary
and respectable. On the ground also are to be seen the remains of the
helmet which formed the crest of his arms, with the other ornaments that
decorated them.

[Illustration: _Quoniam cum interierit, non sumet omnia: neque descendet
cum eo gloria ejus. Psal. xlvii. 18._]


La Mort ajoute ici à l’exercice de son emploi accoutumé celui de vengeur
de vassaux opprimés; elle jette avec violence à la tête de ce Seigneur
ses armoiries, l’objet chéri de son orgueil, sous le poids desquelles
elle va le faire périr. On le voit fouler à ses pieds un fléau, pour
désigner son inhumanité envers les laboureurs, cette classe de la société
si nécessaire & si respectable; on peut encore remarquer à terre, les
débris du casque dont ces armoiries étoient surmontées avec d’autres
ornemens qui les décoroient.


This worthy Cavalier, returned victorious from so many combats and
tournaments, comes at length to meet his match. Death has run him through
the body with a furious stroke of the lance, and is laughing at the vain
efforts he makes to defend himself.

[Illustration: _Subito morientur, & in media nocte turbabuntur populi, &
auferent violentum absque manu. Job xxxiv. 20._]


Ce preux Chevalier sorti vainqueur de tant de combats & de tant de
tournois, vient enfin de trouver son maître. La Mort l’a percé de part en
part d’un furieux coup de lance, & se rit des vains efforts qu’il met en
usage pour se défendre contr’elle.


He is doing every thing in his power to put off the moment that is to
separate him for ever from his possessions, and his fine seat, which
appears in the back ground; but Death inexorable has already set down
beside him the fatal bier, into which he is about to make him enter.

[Illustration: _Quis est homo, qui vivet, et non videbit mortem: eruet
animam suam de manu inferi? Psal. lxxxviii. 49._]


Il fait tout ce qu’il peut pour reculer le moment qui doit le séparer
pour toujours de ses possessions, & de son beau château qui paroît dans
le lointain; mais la Mort inexorable a déjà placé près de lui la bière
fatale où elle va le faire entrer.


On a field of battle, covered with dead carcasses, Death, armed with a
buckler and a huge dart, attacks this warrior, in the bosom of victory,
escaped alone from the carnage of the day, and is giving him some
terrible blows. It is in vain that this brave Soldier, whose courage
seems invincible, is obstinately attempting to dispute the victory with
an irresistible adversary. In the back ground appears another Death,
running, and beating on a drum, who is followed by several soldiers.

[Illustration: _Cum fortis armatus custodit atrium suum, &c. Si autem
fortior eo superveniens vicerit eum, universa ejus arma auferet, in
quibus confidebat. Lucæ xi. 21, 22._]


Sur un champ de bataille jonché de cadavres, la Mort armée d’un bouclier
& d’un grand javelot, attaque dans le sein de la victoire ce guerrier
échappé seul au carnage, & lui port des coups terribles. C’est en vain
que ce brave Soldat dont la valeur sembloit indomptable, s’acharne à
disputer la victoire à un adversaire auquel rien ne sauroit résister.
Dans le lointain on apperçoit une autre Mort qui bat du tambour en
courrant, & qui est suivie de quelques soldats.


It appears that this supporter of Justice, forgetting the dignity of his
station, abandons himself without shame to injustice. He is stretching
out his hand for the gold that the rich man is going to give him, without
doubt to obtain of him a favourable decision, and to bear down the poor
unfortunate man, who appears in a trembling posture at the side of the
Judge. Death comes to surprise him in the midst of his prevarications,
and is snatching out of his hands the rod which is the mark of his

[Illustration: _Disperdam judicem de medio ejus. Amos ii. 3._]


Il paroît que ce suppôt de Thémis, oubliant la dignité de sa place,
s’abandonne sans pudeur à l’iniquité. Il tend la main à l’or que cet
homme riche va lui donner, sans doute pour en obtenir un jugement
favorable, & faire succomber le pauvre malheureux qu’on voit dans une
attitude craintive à côté du Juge. La Mort vient le surprendre au milieu
de ses prévarications, & lui arrache des mains la baguette qui est la
marque de sa dignité.


This magistrate appears deeply engaged in giving, in the open street, to
a rich man, the advices which a little devil, astride on his neck, is
blowing into his ears, while he pays no sort of regard to the poor man,
who is tapping his shoulder, and in the most suppliant posture asking to
be heard. Death seems to be rising from the earth, in indignation, to put
an end to this interesting conversation.

[Illustration: _Qui obturat aurem suam ad clamorem pauperis, et ipse
clamabit, & non exaudietur. Prov. xxi. 13._]


Ce magistrat paroît fort occupé à donner en pleine rue à un homme riche,
des conseils qu’un petit diable à califourchon sur son cou lui souffle
aux oreilles, tandis qu’il ne fait aucune attention au pauvre qui lui
touche doucement l’épaule, & démande dans l’attitude la plus suppliante à
être écouté. La Mort indignée semble sortir de terre, pour mettre fin à
cette conversation intéressée.


This subject answers to No. 29. The example of the Judge seems to
authorize the Advocate to get himself well paid for his prevarication,
and that even in the presence of his poor client, whose wretched
condition would raise compassion in any breast less obdurate than that of
the lawyer. But Death will avenge the oppressed; he is pouring into the
hands of the Advocate money in abundance, of which he will have little
use, for he is, at the same instant, shewing him, with an air of insult,
his sand run out.

[Illustration: _Callidus vidit malum, & abscondit, sed innocens
pertransiit & afflictus est damno. Prov. xxii. 3._]


Ce sujet se rapporte au No. 29. L’exemple du Juge semble autoriser
l’Avocat à se faire payer chèrement ses prévarications, & cela même en
présence de son pauvre client qui se tient dans un certain éloignement,
& dont l’état misérable feroit pitié à une âme moins dure que celle de
l’homme de loi. Mais la Mort vengera l’opprimé; elle verse abondamment
dans les mains de l’Avocat de l’argent dont il ne profitera guère, car
elle lui montre en même tems d’un air moqueur son sable écoulé.


Escaped from the dangers of the sea, and safely arrived in port, this
rich Merchant believes himself now in perfect safety; but he is mistaken.
Employed in counting his money, examining his goods, and treating about
their disposal, a bad customer, Death himself, comes up, and it is his
person only that he wants to bargain for.

[Illustration: _Qui congregat thesauros lingua mendacii, vanus et excors
est, & impingetur ad laqueos Mortis. Prov. xxi. 6._]


Echappé aux périls de la mer, arrivé heureusement au port, ce riche
Marchand se croit en pleine sécurité; il se trompe. Occupé à compter son
argent, à examiner ses marchandises & à traiter de leur vente, un mauvais
chaland, la Mort elle-même, arrive, & ce n’est que de sa personne qu’elle
veut faire emplette.


Bending under the weight of his load, he is advancing, with a quick pace,
to the neighbouring town, comforting himself with thinking on the gain
he is to make there; but Death, in the form of two skeletons, is come to
put a sudden end to his labours and his hopes. One of the skeletons is
dragging him forcibly by the arm, while the other behind him is playing
on a marine trumpet. It is in vain that the poor Hawker points with his
finger to the place where his business calls him; this disagreeable
company appears desirous of making him take another road.

[Illustration: _Venite ad me omnes, qui laboratis, et onerati estis.
Matth. xi. 28._]


Courbé sous le poids de sa charge, il avance à grands pas vers le lieu
voisin, & trouve du soulagement en rêvant au gain qu’il pourroit y faire;
mais la Mort, sous la figure de deux squelettes, est venue subitement
mettre fin à ses peines & à ses espérances. L’un des squelettes le
tire avec force par le bras, tandis que l’autre joue derrière lui de
la trompette marine. C’est en vain que le pauvre Colporteur montre des
doigts l’endroit où ses affaires l’appellent, cette fâcheuse compagnie
paroît vouloir lui faire prendre une autre route.


Death here is exercising his power on one of his most fertile domains. He
himself is breaking the mast of a ship violently tossed by the tempest,
and throws all the passengers into the most fearful despair. One alone
we can distinguish, near the mast, who preserves the tranquillity of
mind which, in the greatest danger, a good conscience yields to firm and
intrepid minds; his head has all the features with which Socrates is
usually represented.

[Illustration: _Qui volunt ditescere incidunt in tentationem & laqueum,
& cupiditates multas stultas & noxias, quæ demergunt homines in exitum &
interitum. 1 ad Timo. vi. 9._]


La Mort exerce ici son empire sur un de ses plus fertiles domaines; elle
brise elle-même le mât d’un vaisseau violemment agité par la tempête, &
jette tous les passagers dans le plus affreux désespoir. On en distingue
un seul placé près du mât, qui a conservé cette tranquillité d’âme qu’une
bonne conscience accorde dans les plus grands périls aux esprits fermes
& courageux; sa tête a tous les traits sous lesquels on représente
ordinairement Socrate.


We see Death here venting his capricious fury on a cart of wine that a
poor Waggoner is conducting. Without doubt, the man himself will soon
come, in his turn, to be the sport of his caprice; and the same cause
that has now produced, will ere long effectually finish his despair.

[Illustration: _Cæcus cæcum ducit: & ambo in foveam cadunt. Matth. xv.


On voit ici la Mort exercer ses bizarres fureurs sur un char de vin
que conduit un pauvre Voiturier. Sans doute que lui-même va devenir
à son tour le jouet de ses caprices, & que la même cause qui vient
d’occasionner son désespoir ne tardera pas à le terminer.


Were Death capable of considerations, what class of society would
better deserve to be exempted from his ravages, than the labourers;
incontestably the most useful, most laborious, and most productive of
real opulence? But he is now striking the horses harnessed to this
Husbandman’s plough; and this enemy of the human race can strike no
blow more severely felt, than by thus attacking it in the source of its

[Illustration: _In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane tuo. Gen. iii. 19._]


Si la Mort pouvoit user de quelque considération, quelle classe de la
société mériteroit mieux d’en être ménagée que celle du laboureur, sans
contredit la plus utile, la plus laborieuse, & la plus productive des
véritables richesses? Mais elle frappe déjà les chevaux attelés à la
charrue de ce Cultivateur, & cette ennemie du genre humain ne sauroit lui
porter des coups plus sensibles qu’en l’attaquant dans les sources de sa


The character of the Miser is very forcibly expressed in this sketch.
Shut up in a vault, which receives the light only through a wicket,
secured with a double grate of thick iron bars, he is entirely taken up
with his beloved treasure, a considerable part whereof Death is snatching
up before his eyes. This loss excites in him all the symptoms of the most
violent desperation, and it plainly appears that his gold is an hundred
times dearer to his heart than his life.

[Illustration: _Stulte, hac nocte repetunt animam tuam: & quæ parasti,
cujus erunt? Lucæ xii. 20._]


Le caractère de l’Avare est rendu dans ce dessein avec beaucoup
d’énergie. Renfermé dans un caveau qui ne reçoit du jour que par une
lucarne garnie d’une double grille d’épais barreaux de fer, il n’est
occupé que de son cher trésor, dont la Mort lui enlève à ses yeux un
portion très-considérable. Cette perte excite en lui tous les symptômes
du plus violent désespoir, & l’on voit bien que son or lui tient cent
fois plus à cœur que la vie.


This ill-fated man attacks in a forest, a country girl returning from
the fair, and is endeavouring to take from her what she is bringing
from thence; but, fortunately for the poor woman, Death comes to her
assistance; and laying hold of the Robber, prevents, probably only by a
few days, the hangman, who would have made him bear on a scaffold the
punishment due to his crimes.

[Illustration: _Quasi agnus lasciviens & ignorans, nescit quod ad vincula
stultus trahatur. Prov. vii. 22._]


Ce malheureux attaque dans une forêt une paysanne qui revient de la
foire, & veut lui enlever ce qu’elle en rapporte; mais heureusement pour
la pauvre femme, la Mort vient à son secours, & en se saisissant du
Voleur elle ne prévient peut-être que de quelques jours le bourreau, qui
lui auroit fait porter sur un échaffaut la peine de ses crimes.


Debauchery, and, above all, excess in drinking, undoubtedly furnish Death
with powerful arms for committing his ravages. Here he appears pouring
the wine in great abundance into the throat of one of these Drunkards,
and the most beastly drunkenness reigns in these disgusting orgies.

[Illustration: _Et nolite inebriari vino, in quo est luxuria. Eph. v.


La débauche & surtout les excès de la boisson fournissent sans cesse à la
Mort des armes puissantes pour exercer ses ravages. On la voit ici qui
entonne le vin à grands flots dans le gozier d’un de ces Yvrognes, & la
plus grossière crapule préside à cette dégoûtante orgie.


Here is another company well worthy of the former; and the fate of
those who compose it is nearly the same; it only differs in this, that
the Devil and Death are disputing which of them shall carry off the
losing Gamester. It is a contest, if we may say so, frightful as well as
ludicrous, so much the more so, that the second Gamester, interesting
himself in the fate of the first, is addressing fervent prayers to the
Devil on his behalf; but the third is doing still better, taking the
advantage of this moment of trouble and terror, to gather in the money
that is lying on the table.

[Illustration: _Quid enim prodest homini, si mundum universum lucretur,
animæ vero suæ detrimentum patiatur? Matth. xvi. 26._]


Voici une autre compagnie bien digne de la précédente; aussi le sort de
ceux qui la composent est-il à peu près le même; il ne diffère qu’en ce
que le Diable & la Mort se disputent qui des deux emportera le Joueur qui
a perdu. C’est un combat, s’il est permis de le dire, aussi effroyable
que comique, d’autant plus que le second Joueur, s’intéressant au sort
du premier, adresse de ferventes prières au Diable en sa faveur; mais
le troisième fait encore mieux, & profite de ce moment de trouble &
d’effroi, pour ramasser l’argent qui se trouve sur la table.


Here we see Death leading away, playing on a psaltery, an Old Man to the
brink of the grave, bent under the load of years, and verging to the last
degree of frailty. The Old Man allows himself to be carried off, with
that calmness and tranquillity, which are the effects of wisdom, and the
fruits of a good conscience.

[Illustration: _Spiritus meus attenuabitur, dies mei breviabuntur, &
solum mihi superest sepulchrum. Job xvii. 1._]


L’on voit ici la Mort qui conduit sur le bord de sa fosse, en jouant du
psalterion, un Vieillard courbé sous le poids des années, & parvenu au
dernier degré de la caducité. Le Vieillard se laisse emmener avec ce
calme & cette tranquillité qui sont l’apanage de la sagesse & les fruits
d’une bonne conscience.


The grim countenance of this good old Dame does not indicate the same
resignation as appears in the former subject. Wholly occupied in mumbling
her rosary, she pays no attention to the sound of a dulcimer, on which
one of her conductors is playing. The other skeleton, impatient of the
slowness of the Old Woman’s march, is employing menaces and blows to make
her advance.

[Illustration: _Melior est mors quam vita. Eccle. xxx. 17._]


Le visage rechigné de cette bonne Vieille n’annonce pas la même
résignation que dans le sujet précédent. Toute occupée à marmotter son
rosaire, elle ne prête aucune attention au son du timpanon dont joue
l’une de ses conductrices. L’autre squelette impatient de la lenteur que
la bonne Vieille met dans sa marche, emploie les menaces & les coups pour
la faire avancer.


This poor Blind Man is following, with an air of chagrin, his new
conductor, who, without pity, is leading him through wretched roads. In
vain does he attempt, by groping his way, to avoid the obstacles that
oppose his reluctant march; he will not avoid that fatal goal to which
Death is conducting him, and which will be the only termination of his

[Illustration: _Domine vim patior. Isaiæ xxxviii. 14._

_Cæci sunt, & duces cæcorum. Cæcus autem si cæco ducatum præstet, ambo in
foveam cadunt. Matth. xv. 14._]


Ce pauvre Aveugle suit d’un air chagrin son nouveau conducteur qui le
mène impitoyablement par les plus mauvais chemins; en vain veut-il
éviter, en tâtonnant, les obstacles qui s’opposent à sa marche forcée; il
n’évitera pas le terme fatal où la Mort le conduit, et qui ne sera dans
le fond que celui de ses maux.


In the most deplorable situation, lame, and exposed almost naked to the
injuries of the weather, he is set down before a rich man’s house, into
which he has the mortification to see several enter, who look at him
without ever thinking of relieving his distress. Death, not less cruel
than capricious, whose aid alone he implores, and in whose power it is to
make him happy, deaf to his prayers, allows him to groan under the load
of evils which overwhelm him, whilst he delights to tear from this life
those who think themselves happy, or are attached to it by the strongest

[Illustration: _Corruit in curru suo. Chron. xxii._]


Dans l’état le plus déplorable, estropié, exposé presque nud aux injures
du tems, il est assis devant la maison d’un homme opulent, dans laquelle
il a la douleur de voir entrer plusieurs personnes qui le regardent sans
songer à soulager ses peines. La Mort non moins cruelle que bizarre, dont
lui seul implore le secours, & qui pourroit faire son bonheur, sourde
à ses prières, le laisse gémir sous le poids des maux qui l’accablent,
tandis qu’elle se plaît à arracher de cette vie ceux qui s’y croient
heureux, ou qui y tiennent par les liens les plus puissans.


If under the roof of poverty there is any comfort, it is in having
children, by whom we may hope one day to be solaced. This is the case
with this poor widow; but death is of a different opinion, and is come to
carry off her youngest Child, unmoved by her prayers and lamentations.

[Illustration: _Homo natus de muliere, brevi vivens tempore, repletur
multis miseriis: qui quasi flos egreditur & conteritur, & fugit velut
umbra. Job xiv. 1, 2._]


Si sous le toit de la pauvreté il y a quelque consolation, c’est d’avoir
des enfans dont on peut espérer d’être un jour soulagé. C’est le cas de
cette pauvre veuve, mais la Mort n’est point de cet avis, & vient de lui
enlever le plus petit sans se laisser fléchir, ni par ses prières ni par
ses lamentations.


Death is leading him away gaily, making him dance to the sound of a
bagpipe. The Fool, ignorant without doubt of the catastrophe that awaits
him, seems to be meditating some piece of mischief, which will probably
be his last.

This dancing couple finish the procession, wherein HOLBEIN has had the
skill to unite a salutary moral with the gayest and liveliest sallies
that form a singular contrast with the sadness of the subject.

[Illustration: _Quasi agnus lasciviens, & ignorans quod ad vincula
stultus trahatur. Prov. vii. 22._]


La Mort l’emmène gaiement en le faisant danser au son d’une cornemuse;
le Fou qui ne sait pas sans doute la catastrophe qui l’attend, paroît
méditer une malice qui sera vraisemblablement la dernière.

Ce couple dansant termine la marche de cette suite où HOLBEIN a su réunir
une morale salutaire, aux sallies les plus gaies & les plus plaisantes
qui contrastent singulièrement avec la tristesse du sujet.



*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dances of Death - Through the Various Stages of Human Life wherein the - Capriciousness of that Tyrant is Exhibited" ***

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