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Hans Holbein. Icones Historiarum Veteris Testamenti.
Lyon: Jean Frellon, 1547. Small quarto, modern full dark brown morocco gilt. Printer’s
device on title page, two woodcut initials, 94 woodcuts after designs by Hans Holbein,
four later woodcuts by an unknown hand. Text in Latin and French. $10,000.
The fifth edition of Hans Holbein’s collected illustrations for the Old Testament,
printed from the original blocks, one of the great achievements in the history
of book illustration. Drawing on his experience of Italian Renaissance painting,
Holbein’s masterful treatment of perspective draws the reader into the Biblical
landscape: “rarely has such an impression of depth been conveyed so convincingly
on such a small scale.” Drawn with startling directness, the figures of Ruth, Job,
Judith, and Jonah appear in mid-gesture, engaged in conversation, as though
captured unaware. Holbein’s ninety Old Testament designs were cut in 1529 and
1530, most likely by Veit Specklin, although several blocks appear to be the work
of a lesser hand: proof copies appeared as Bible illustrations as early as 1531.
In the 1538 first edition, eighty-eight of Holbein’s Old Testament woodcuts were
prefaced by four blocks borrowed from his
Dance of Death
series, depicting events
from the Book of Genesis. The final two Old Testament woodcuts completed the
series in 1539; this copy is from the earlier of two editions printed by Frellon in
1547, and includes four portraits of the evangelists. A near-fine copy of a
groundbreaking work.
Hans Holbein. Les Images de la Mort, aux Quelles Sont Adioustées Douze Figures.
Lyon: Jean Frellon, 1547. Small octavo, modern full black morocco. Printer’s device on
title page, woodcut initials throughout text, 53 woodcuts after designs by Hans Holbein.
Bookplate and owner signatures of nineteenth-century collector Elias Horry Frost.
Text in French. $17,500.
The third edition in French, and the seventh edition overall, of Hans Holbein’s
Dance of Death
, printed from the original blocks. In the early 1520s, printers in
Lyon commissioned Holbein to illustrate the traditional theme of the
danse
macabre
. Rather than depicting a formal procession headed by Death, as was
the convention in painting, Holbein produced a modern dance aimed squarely at
readers of the book. Each page represents a new plot twist, as Death arrives, in
dozens of guises, to capture a sharply observed individual character: the Pope,
the Queen, the Judge, the Doctor, the Sailor, the Ploughman. Master blockcutter
Hans Lützelberger cut forty-one of Holbein’s designs, but died before he could
finish the series: the 1538 first edition uses only the Lützelberger blocks. This
1547 edition, printed by Jean Frellon, includes those forty-one images along with
twelve later woodcuts (“douze figures”) after Holbein’s original designs. Each
woodcut is accompanied by a verse from the Bible and a quatrain; the images
are followed by texts by Urbanus Rhegius, St. Cyprian, and St. John Chrysostom.
A near-fine copy of a landmark in book illustration.
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