Plate 62, Dance of Death Alphabet (overview)details

[Picture: Plate 62, Dance of Death Alphabet (overview)]
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Image title: Plate 62, Dance of Death Alphabet (overview)
Source: Butsch, A. F.: “Die Bücher-Ornamentik Der Renaissance (Vol. I.)” (1878)
Keywords: initials, death, page images, greyscale
Status: out of copyright (called public domain in the USA), hence royalty-free stock image for all purposes usage credit requested
Please do not redistribute without permission, since running this site is expensive.

Plate 62 is Holbein’s Dance of Death alphabet. I am making the individual letters available at higher resolution; this image is just a place to put the notes and to let you get a feel for the whole alphabet.

Hans Holbein’s famous death dance initials, ca 1523.

These widely described and published initials are not only the most magnificent thing which was created by the master, but also the most ingenious German artistic pre-renaissance creation for decorative intials. The technical development of his work is admirable, which are commonly known as works of Hans Lützelburger [that is, they were probably engraved by Hans Luetzelburger after designs by Holbein - Liam].

A question unanswered today [1878] is whether the decorations were created by metal engraving or by woodcut. The sharpness of the shapes, the small outlines seem to be created using metalcut techniques. But the softness in the overall appearance looks like the woodcut technique is used.

The earliest use of the letters in print were in Johann Bebels Offizin around 1524. The provided complete suite is based on the sample impressions (from the museum of Basel) in original size.

Translation kindly supplied by Róman Joost; you can also see a picture of the original German captions.


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Unmarked: You can get a version of this image without the watermark at the lower right corner by requesting it here; The images are watermarked to help people find where they came from if they get reposted to blogs or other sites. Images under 1200 pixels on a side are still free, although I will ask for a donation :-)


Added by Dave Grube on Mon Feb 7 10:22:05 2011

Why does this collection not have letter J?

Added by Liam Quin on Mon Feb 7 12:41:00 2011

Thank you for writing!
The distinction between I and J is a modern one, like that between U and V; older alphabets rarely have both I and J, both U and V. They also tend not to have W, X, Y and Z.
You can find a few decorative initial “J” letters with this search.

Comment: Add a link, leave a comment or change keywords

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