[Imago Mortis]

Method Woodcut
Artist Michael Wolgemut
Published [Anton Koberger, Nuremberg, 1493]
Dimensions Image 194 x 224 mm, Sheet 225 x 255 mm
Notes A representation of the raising of the dead during the Last Judgement, perhaps the most iconic image from the celebrated Nuremberg Chronicle. The woodcut, likely engraved by Wolgemut himself, is featured as the coda for Hartmann Schedel's discussion of the end of the Seventh Age of Creation, and the coming Apocalypse that will mark the end of the world and the creation of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the scene, five cadavers cavort around their graves. The two central figures, completely skeletal apart from a few strands of hair on their bony scalps, dance a vigorous jig, while a third, with intestines held over its left arm, uses its right hand to twirl its fellow in a ghastly pirouette. To the left of the scene, a corpse in a voluminous winding sheet provides the tune for their dance on a pipe, while a fifth figure, supine at the bottom of the scene, awakes from its slumber to join the troupe.

The scene is often referred to as being the earliest printed example of the popular medieval 'Danse Macabre' genre, though this is not strictly true. Though the attitude of the cadavers are certainly suggestive of the Dance of Death, Wolgemut's woodcut refers specifically to the rising of the dead in the Book of Revelations, one of the supposed signs of the Apocalypse that will come after the Reign of the Antichrist. By comparison, Danse Macabre scenes, while deeply embedded with Christian eschatological symbolism, were much more a social and folkloric phenomenon, acting as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Death was the great leveller, affecting all mortals alike, regardless of their rank or station. Popes, emperors, the rich, the pious, and the youthful were just as susceptible to death's fickle grasp as a lowly pauper, an elderly farmer, or even a common thief. Wolgemut's scene on the other hand, is a representation of the product of death's actions over the many centuries of human life. Stripped of their worldly identities and the trappings of their past lives, the Dead stand equal at the end of all things.

The Liber Chronicarum, usually referred to in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle or in German as the Schedelsche Weltchronik, is, after the Gutenberg Bible, likely the most famous of all early printed books. A colossal chronicle of biblical history, the text covered the seven ages of the world, from Creation to the contemporary world of fifteenth century Europe, and the coming of the Last Judgement. The text, written in Latin by Hartmann Schedel and translated by Georg Alt for the German edition, was mostly a composite of earlier biblical, scientific, philosophical, and historical works. What set the Chronicle apart from its contemporaries was less the quality of its text than its illustrations, which were carved in their hundreds by the workshop of Michael Wolgemut. The illustrations for some of these blocks may have been executed by the young Albrecht Durer, who was apprenticed to Wolgemut at the time. Estimates suggest that up to 1500 copies in Latin may have been printed, as well as between 700 and 1000 German copies by the publishing house of Anton Koberger. In an attempt to prevent piracy, the blocks were kept under lock and key, and returned to the patrons of the work following printing.

Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) was a German painter, printmaker, and sculptor, whose significant achievements are now largely overshadowed by his much more lauded pupil, Albrecht Durer. His most memorable contribution to the arts is his involvement in the production of the woodcut illustrations for the Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the most important incunabula. Wolgemut's studio, including the young Durer, produced almost two thousand illustrations for this work, and Wolgemut is rightly credited as one of the key figures in securing the primacy of German woodcut printing in the late fifteenth century.

Condition: Excellent clean impression. Minor printers creases to top left corner of sheet. Letterpress German text on verso. Framed in an antique-style black and gold frame.
Framing framed
Price £2,750.00
Stock ID 49166