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Painting and Graphic Art

Basel Dance of Death: the Herald

Key data

Konrad Witz or his circle

Basel, ca. 1435/1440

Tempera on plaster

H 56.5 cm, W 45.5 cm

Inv. 1870.692.


Basel’s famous Totentanz or Dance of Death was painted during the Council of Basel (1431–1448), possibly under the influence of the plague epidemic of 1439. The 60-m-long mural painted onto the inside wall of the cemetery of the Dominican convent showed forty mortals locked in an encounter with Death. All that now remains of that work are the 19 fragments that were saved when it was torn down in 1805. The Herald with a chain bearing the crests of Austria, France, England and Burgundy is presented as a servant of many masters. The Basel Dance of Death was one of the first, and still counts as one of the most important examples of the memento mori pictures which spread throughout Europe from the 15th century onwards, being especially common in the monasteries of the mendicant orders.

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