Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist. Matthäus MERIAN.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.
The Dance of Death in Basel
Extensive Suite of Engravings from Merian’s Original Copperplates
An Example in Lavish Contemporary Hand-Color
Richly Decorated with Marbled Paper throughout
[Engraving] / [Dance of Death].
Frankfurt am Main, J. B. Andreä and H. Hort, s.a., [c. 1700-25].

Todten-Tantz, wie derselbe in der löblichen und weit-berühmten Stadt Basel, als ein Spiegel menschlicher Beschaffenheit, gantz känstlich gemahlet und zu sehen ist.

4to [ 20.1 x 18.5 cm], 198 pp, (1) f., including (1) full-page engraved title in contemporary hand color with letterpress text, (42) full-page engravings of mural scenes in contemporary hand color (the first of which signed by Merian), and (2) further full-page engravings in contemporary hand color (the ‘Memento Mori’ and the Vexierbild, neither by Merian). Bound in contemporary vellum, marbled endpapers, red edges, marbled paper affixed throughout to blank versos of engravings, contemporary inscription of Richard Moore on front flyleaf, Moore’s English translations of German headings added to upper margin of each engraving, loosely inserted contemporary manuscript leaf providing French translations of image headings. Minor rubbing, edge wear and hand-soiling to the binding. Occasional minor marginal staining and hand-soiling not affecting the engravings, hand-color to engravings still vibrant and fresh.

A very fine (and quite unusual) example – here in vibrant contemporary hand-color – of the printmaker Matthäus Merian the Elder’s (1593-1650) renowned series of engravings recording the famous ‘Dance of Death’ mural formerly in the courtyard of Basel’s Predigerkloster. Contemporary hand-colored copies of this work are very rare. Merian’s suite of 42 full-page plates, which he based on drawings he made in person at the Predigerkloster in 1616, remains a key witness to this important late medieval wall painting (torn down in 1805). Executed in the early 1440s, the mural, known as the Grossbasler Totentanz or Tod von Basel, is an important early example from the Danse Macabre tradition, following closely on the heels of the foundational work from that genre, the mural at the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents in Paris (completed c. 1425, destroyed 1669). By the 17th-century the Grossbasler Totentanz had become a monument of great antiquarian interest while still retaining its original meditative function, and Merian’s book reflects this two-fold appeal through the addition of both historical and religious texts to the suite of engravings. The present example – an undated [c. 1700-25] edition published by Andreä & Hort in Frankfurt – was printed from Merian’s original copperplates (now lost). The volume retains its contemporary vellum binding and early ownership inscription of a certain Richard Moore (see below), who had his copy transformed into a deluxe devotional book in the manner of Books of Hours through the careful addition of fine marbled paper to the blank versos of each richly colored plate.

The Grossbasler Totentanz mural was executed perhaps by the famous Swiss painter Konrad Witz (c. 1400-1446) or his workshop. The painting was a continuous frieze some 60 meters long and 2 meters high on the inside wall of the burial yard at the Predigerkloster, a suitable location for engaging with the theme of the universality of death and its inescapability no matter what one’s station in life. The composition began with an image of frightful skeletons escaping their charnel house and there followed 38 scenes showing skeletons leading men and women from all walks of life to their graves, from pope and king, to brewer and beggar. Added to each grouping were German verses commenting on the predicament of these figures. The mural survived the 1529 outbreak of Protestant iconoclasm in Basel and was extensively restored in 1568 by the painter Hans Hug Kluber (1533-78), who modernized the figures’ dress and updated the skeletons to be more anatomically correct. Kluber also added three new scenes: At the start of the mural he painted a portrait of the Basel reformer Johannes Oekolampad (1482-1531) preaching from the pulpit, and at the end he painted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and a scene of “The Death of the Painter,” a self-portrait with portraits of his wife and his young son being rounded up by cadavers in the manner of the original scenes. The murals received a further restoration in 1614-16, at which time Merian took an interest in the subject, engraving each grouping of the frieze on an individual copperplate for inclusion in a book.


Merian’s engravings first appeared in Basel in editions by Johann Schröter (1621) and by Mattheus Mieg (1621 and 1625); these exceedingly rare editions contain only a modest amount of letterpress text to supplement the images and verse inscriptions (dedicatory material, relevant Bible verses). In 1649 Merian reworked the plates slightly (adding clouds to the sky and other background details) and published an edition in Frankfurt. He filled out this edition with 2 additional full-page engravings (neither by his hand), a ‘Memento Mori’ (a skull on an open book surmounted by an hourglass) and a so-called Vexierbild, a bust-length portrait of a finely dressed man which when viewed upside down reveals the image of a grinning skull. Merian doubled the book’s length by providing a long introduction on the history and antiquarian aspects of the Grossbasler Totentanz, inscriptional material from the 1568 and 1616 restorations, Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini’s (the future Pope Pius II; 1405-64) letter describing the city of Basel in the 1430s, early meditative texts by Cyprianus and Chrysostom, etc. After Merian’s death in 1650, his heirs published editions in Frankfurt (1696) and Berlin (1698; a French translation). In addition to the present, undated edition (c. 1700-25 according to Wüthrich), Andreä & Hort published a nearly identical edition (but with text reimposed) in Frankfurt in 1725, and shortly thereafter the original copperplates were lost. A further 15 editions (illustrated with copies after Merian’s designs) appeared in various languages between 1744 and 1892, attesting to the continuing popularity of the Danse Macabre motif even after the Basel mural was torn down in 1805. Several surviving fragments of the painting are today housed in Basel’s Historisches Museum and attest to the accuracy of Merian’s depictions.


The present example of Merian’s Todten-Tantz carries on its front flyleaf the contemporary signature of a certain Richard Moore (“Richardi Moore”) and an indication that the book was purchased for 20 francs (“pd for this 20 francs”). Moore also added English labels translating the German headings of each scene (e.g. “Todt zum Waldbruder” is glossed “Death & Hermitt”), some of which betray his uncertain command of German (e.g., he calls the Ritter [the knight] an “Executioner”) and point to the fact he was primarily interested in the book’s images as opposed to its text, which comes as little surprise given the lavish coloring applied to the engravings and the addition of fine marbled paper throughout to decorate the blank verso each print. Inserted loosely at the rear of the volume is a leaf written in a contemporary hand providing French translations of each heading. While it is impossible to establish the identity of Richard Moore with any certainty, it is intriguing to discover in the archival records that an Irish priest by the name of Richard Moore is recorded as having died in Paris in 1723, that he owned 20 volumes (“books of devotion, for ecclesiastical use, valued at 10 livres”), and that his heir was his uncle, a canon at Senlis, who also went by the name of Richard Moore (L. Swords, pp. 108-9).


Matthäus Merian the Elder (1593-1650), a member of the patrician Merian family in Basel, worked in Frankfurt for most of his career. He first learned the art of copperplate engraving in Zürich, and is recorded working in Paris, Strasbourg and Nancy. In 1616, shortly after sketching the Grossbasler Totentanz, he moved to Oppenheim to work in the publishing shop of Johann Theodor de Bry, son of the renowned Thedor de Bry (1528-98), and a year later married the younger De Bry’s daughter. He would remain associated with the De Bry house for the rest of his (very prolific) career. Merian is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to the 21-volume Topographia Germania (1642-1660s), later parts and editions of De Bry’s Grandes and Petites Voyages and alchemical work such as the Musaeum Hermeticum (1625) and Atalanta Fugiens (1618). Merian’s son Matthäus Merian the Younger (1621-87) and his daughter Anna Maria Sibilla Merian (1647-1717) became illustrators of considerable quality.


* L. H. Wüthrich, Das druckgraphische Werk von Matthaeus Merian d. Ae. (4 volumes), vol. 3, no. 7, pp. 352 & 360; L. H. Wüthrich, ed., Matthaeus Merian d. Ä.: Briefe und Widmungen; L. H. Wüthrich, Matthaeus Merian d. Ä.: Eine Biographie; F. Egger, Basler Totentanz; F. Fischer, “Über die Enstehung und den Meister des Grossbasler Todtentanz,” Festschrift zur Einweihung des Museums in Basel am 26 November 1849, n. 4, pp. 1-19; H. F. Massmann, Literatur der Basler Totentänze, pp. 75-80; H. F. Massmann, Die Basler Totentänze (Der Schatzgräber V); F. Maurer, Die Kunstdenkmäler des Kantons Basel-Stadt, pp. 290-314; L. Swords, “Calendar of Irish material in the files of Jean Fromont, notary at Paris, May 1701-24 Jan. 1730, in the Archives Nationales, Paris: Part 2, 1716-1730,” Collectanea Hibernica, vols. 36-37 (1995/5), pp. 85-139.

 

Price: $33,500.00

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