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Luke Clennell’s Dance Of Death

October 28, 2018
by the gentle author

More than fifteen years have passed since my father died at this time of year and thoughts of mortality always enter my mind as the nights begin to draw in, as I prepare to face the spiritual challenge of another long dark winter ahead. So Luke Clennell’s splendid DANCE OF DEATH engravings inspired by Hans Holbein suit my mordant sensibility at this season.

First published in 1825 as the work of ‘Mr Bewick’, they have recently been identified for me as the work of Thomas Bewick’s apprentice Luke Clennell by historian Dr Ruth Richardson.

The Desolation

The Queen

The Pope

The Cardinal

The Elector

The Canon

The Canoness

The Priest

The Mendicant Friar

The Councillor or Magistrate

The Astrologer

The Physician

The Merchant

The Wreck

The Swiss Soldier

The Charioteer or Waggoner

The Porter

The Fool

The Miser

The Gamesters

The Drunkards

The Beggar

The Thief

The Newly Married Pair

The Husband

The Wife

The Child

The Old Man

The Old Woman

You may also like to take a look at

Luke Clennell’s London Melodies

Luke Clennell’s Cries of London

19 Responses leave one →
  1. October 3, 2015

    The images are really good, very thought provoking. Valerie

  2. Yvonne Kolessides permalink
    October 3, 2015

    Bless you for making my morning cup of tea an extra pleasure..

  3. October 3, 2015

    As I approach forty, for the second time, my attention is drawn to the ‘Old Man’ and how he is helped on his way. I have so much going on at that every little help is welcome at the moment, and I don’t even have time to, “Rage against” anything.

    So please don’t let the Winter Woes set in, but occupy yourself/us with another of your wonderful projects … which help lighten our days.

  4. October 3, 2015

    Dear Gentle Author,

    I will humming and whistling Dance Macabre all day now.

  5. October 3, 2015

    These are quite amazing: though I am surprised that they were ever ascribed to Bewick as the lines are so much looser and freer. Another reason to look forward to ‘The Cries of London’ – when will we be able to place orders?

  6. Sally Baldwin permalink
    October 3, 2015

    Why do you suppose that the Beggar, alone of all this company, isn’t visited by a skeletal Death? Or perhaps I’m not seeing it.

    A wonderful collection, many thanks, Gentle Author.


  7. October 3, 2015

    I too am surprised that these were ever attributed to Bewick as, to me, they bear no resemblance to his work whatsoever.

  8. carolyn permalink
    October 4, 2015

    Wow….so clearly showing what we all know….no matter who we are, no matter what age or what standing in life…..our day of passing awaits us.
    Thanks gentle author

  9. Mary Moulder permalink
    October 4, 2015

    This is very amusing. In Tucson, we have a parade on The Day Of The Dead, dress up and laugh at death and ourselves, and have a merry time. It goes back to Native American traditions, so we also clean and decorate the grave sites, place votives, and platters of our lost family members favorite foods and drinks. We sing to them and “picnic” with them. Some will make a buffet of family favorites and invite the souls home for the sliver of the time fold, and make sure the souls know there will be another welcoming next year, same time and same place. If you miss a family member and have no such tradition, the 2 of November, put a plate of delights in a high place in your home, and include a beverage, and perhaps favorite music. It may make you very contented to know that love does not die, rather it endures to cross any barrier. We can’t see them, but the smells, the lights, and the sounds are shared by all.

  10. mike Battcock permalink
    October 10, 2015

    I love the work of Thomas Bewick. One of his engravings was of one of my ancestors – Robert Carr.

    “Dyers of Ovingham” by Thomas Bewick, in the later editions of the “Birds” (1816) was Robert Carr. “The master dyer was depicted as “a most dissolute and objectionable character” and Robert as “remarkable for his simplicity, integrity, and industry”. “The family of the former, who was fairly well-to-do, have long disappeared; the latter will go down to posterity as the grandfather of the famous engineer, George Stephenson, whose modest birthplace is still passed by all who take the rail for Prudhoe”.

  11. March 30, 2016

    Sally, it seems like a perverse irony that The Reaper won’t visit the only person who is yearning for death. However, there is a mundane explanation for this.

    The beggar was added to the books with Holbein’s dance of death in 1545, but in a separate section and not as part of the dance. Two years later, in 1547, the beggar was includes in the sequence along with the other dancers.

    Some of Holbein’s copyists have added Death to this scene as well. For more info, please see:

  12. Susan permalink
    October 28, 2018

    “The Canoness” strikes me as particularly creepy.

  13. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 28, 2018

    Great images… One wonders what the equivalent characters would be today and how death would be tempting them?

  14. Suresh Singh permalink
    October 28, 2018

    ‘Let the remembrance of death be the patched coat you wear’ Guru Granth Sahib

    What an amazing piece the architecture in the beggar is like an Aldo Rossi May the god’s bless the Gentle Author

  15. Bernie permalink
    October 28, 2018

    What a lot of painstaking work in involved in such engravings! Can anyone estimate how long it would have taken the engraver to complete them?

  16. October 28, 2018

    I am impressed at the atmospheric depth of each image. “The Pope” is a perfect example. There was SO much to observe in the surrounding backdrops — although clearly the theatricality of the figures is the main mission here. Raw emotions, on display. I observed that this artist lavishes his best line work on the FACES; and the heads are out-sized. Interesting timing for me, since I am about to attend an art event where we are going to explore images from the Mexican Loteria deck, and we plan to build a studio altar. Am thinking of the affinity between these prints, above, and the work of Juan Guadalupe Posada. (not to mention Goya’s darker cast of characters)
    Thank you, GA, as ever.

  17. James permalink
    October 28, 2018


  18. Gary Arber permalink
    October 28, 2018

    I have just came in from a pleasant afternoon gardening in the autumn sunshine.
    I am now remembering that I am 87, and I am also looking over my shoulder with apprehension.

  19. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    October 28, 2018

    Are you familiar with the 15th century ballad, The Doleful Dance and Song of Death?
    The final verse:

    “…Therefore take time while it is Lent
    Prepare with me yourselves to dance;
    Forget me not, your lives lament,
    I come oft-times by sudden chance.
    Be ready, therefore, watch and pray,
    That when my minstrel pipe doth play,
    You may to heaven dance the way You may to heaven dance the way.”

    I couldn’t help thinking of it while I was looking at the engravings.

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