Friday, April 8, 2016

Dance art of Hans Holbein the younger

Before he moved to England and painted portraits of Henry the VIII and Anne of Cleves Holbein worked in Basel Switzerland.    Holbein's dance works include painting the facade of the Haus zum Tanz, a 24 character alphabet of a peasant wake,  ( fest ),   and several woodcuts used for illustrations on book cover pages.

Detail of Table of Cebes circa 1521,  the garden of Luxuria,  ( Lust ).   Two couples dance the foresteg,  ( beginning step),  with man's left arm raised and man leading parner holding her left hand.

   With sex, dance, music and gambling the garden of Luxuria precedes the garden of Love.

Holbein's designs include images of the dance walking step with man's left arm raised as above.
The figure in the Haus zum Tanz with the purse is copied in Sebald Beham's 1535 kermit feast,
 or peasant feast and Franz Bruns 12 metal work miniatures of 24 dancers and musicians.
 The earliest print or painting I have found so far of this "step"  is the 1494  Nuremburg Chronicals,  and then the pencil work by Dürer in about 1516.

Haus zum Tanz   was painted in 1519 or 1520.   A replica was made as in the Basel museum.
The house itself was destroyed in the early 20th century.

In a color image of one side  you can see the dancer with the purse with his left arm raised.
Six more dancers can be seen in this photo.

Holbein metalcut book illustration and repeated printed by Cratander

Another peasant dancing illustration printed by Petri in about 1527.

Holbein also designed the earliest to date that I know of picture of a couple dancing in the closed position in 1525 peasant wake 24 character alphabet.    The letter H

References  ( Note that Jstor permits guests to have 3 documents "checked out" at no charge )
Festive Peasants before Bruegel: Three Case Studies and Their Implications
Walter S. Gibson
Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art
Vol. 31, No. 4 (2004 - 2005), pp. 292-309
(article consists of 18 pages)
Published by: Stichting voor Nederlandse Kunsthistorische Publicaties
DOI: 10.2307/4150595
Stable URL:

Holbein and his Time,  1872,   page 218.
Peasant alphabet,  letters  A,B,L,V   (  A,B,V are among the 14 of the British Museum ).
There are links to online versions of this text.

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