Basel: Gebrüden von Mechel, 1796, i.e., 1842.
Octavo: 20 x 12.6 cm.  leaf (title), 6 p.,  lvs. With an added engraving, printed on delicate paper, of the Basel Priors' Convent.
A rare edition, and a very fine copy, of the “Basel” Dance of Death. Despite the date of 1796 indicated on the title, this edition was printed in 1842. The new date appears at the end of the new publisher’s introduction. Bound in 19th c. boards patterned with gold stars (light wear and surface soiling, corners bumped.) Internally an excellent, large copy, the majority of leaves with their fore-margins and lower margins untrimmed. Provenance: bibliothèque Champfleury (sold at Paris, 1890, lot 243).
Illustrated with 41 large woodcuts, originally cut by the Basel artist Georg Scharffenberg (ca. 1530 - ca. 1607), whose initials 'GS' are found on some of the images. Scharffenberg’s woodcuts were based on those of Hans Holbein (1497-1543), whose complete series was printed in 1547. Scharffenberg’s woodcuts were first printed, by Huldreich Frölich, at Basel in 1588, though one of the cuts (the Expulsion) is dated 1576.
While Holbein’s images, and by extension, Scharffenberg’s, were not based on the Basel fresco cycle, in 1715 the publisher Johann-Conrad von Mechel added the verses associated with the Basel paintings, and added the deceptive title “The Death Dance, as seen in the famous city of Basel, as a mirror of human nature….” The Mechel family reprinted the book six times in the 18th c. This 1842 edition follows the edition of 1796. It differs only in the inclusion of the 6-page introduction and the addition of the plate of the convent.
The original Basel fresco paintings -possibly painted in response to the plague of 1439- adorned the exterior walls of the Priors' Convent in Basel. The paintings, with the exception of 19 fragments, were lost in 1805 when the building was destroyed. An engraving bound at the front of this volume shows the convent and its wall.