Le Triomphe de la Mort, gravé d’après les dessins originaux de Holbein par Chrétien de Méchel Graveur a Basle.

Paris, Simon Raçon, ‘1780’ [i.e. 1854].

Small 4to, pp. [196]; engraved frontispiece and 46 engraved plates numbered 1-47, the last double-page, each accompanied by a descriptive facing page; half-title and title-page printed in red and black; the occasional spot, light offsetting; a handsome copy in contemporary blue-green morocco signed by Capé, marbled endpapers, monogram of the Duke of Hamilton gilt to corners, dentelle turn-ins, edges gilt, ribbon place-marker; armorial bookplate of Thomas Bartlett to front paste-down, later pencil inscription ‘From the Hamilton Library’ to front pastedown, stamp of the University of London (‘withdrawn’) to title.


US $1070€991

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Le Triomphe de la Mort, gravé d’après les dessins originaux de Holbein par Chrétien de Méchel Graveur a Basle.

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Rare nineteenth-century reprint of Mechel’s engravings after the magnificent set of woodcuts by Hans Holbein (1497–1543), in which the grinning figure of Death surreptitiously claims a host of victims ranging from popes to paupers.

Mechel’s Triomphe de la Mort first appeared in 1780, the first of four parts in his rare series of engravings after Holbein. The folio edition featured twelve sheets of engravings, four to a page, and enlarged one and a half times from the woodcut originals.

The final engraving, ‘Petite danse des morts sur un fourreau de poignard’, depicts Holbein’s earliest representation of the danse macabre sequence, here framed within an ornate dagger sheath. Mechel’s highly precise rendering is perhaps the most faithful known representation of the scabbard: it is drawn not from copies by Rubens, as the other engravings in the series are, but from Holbein’s original ink and wash drawing (c. 1540), which the Swiss engraver had in his possession (now at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin).

The sequence portrays a host of archetypal figures claimed by Death, among them a king dropping his sceptre as Death grasps him by the elbow; a queen clutching a skeletal arm with one hand and her lapdog’s lead in the other; and a monk taken by surprise, goblet still in hand. The figures, as the accompanying French text affirms, are undoubtedly ‘rendered with as much spirit as truth’ (p. [195] trans.).

1. Bound for Alexander Anthony Archibald Douglas Hamilton, eleventh Duke of Hamilton (1811–1863).
2. Sold at the Hamilton Palace sale (Sotheby’s, 5 May 1884, lot 1020, £3 to Rimmel).
3. Thomas Bartlett, Esq. (d. 1912), the Liverpudlian businessman whose bequest funded the bells of Liverpool Cathedral.

See Collins, The Dance of Death in Book Illustrations (1978); Hegner, Der Holbeinische Todtentanz (1827)’; Thieme-Becker XXIV, p. 324.

OCLC finds three copies in the US (Columbia, Morgan, Princeton), and none in the UK.

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