Theatrum Mortis Humanae tripartitum, 1682

Full title: Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum: figuris aeneis illustratum : das ist: Schau – Bühne des menschlichen Todts in drey Theil: mit schönen Kupffer – Stichen geziehrt vnd an Tag gegeben; Laybach, Saltzburg (Ljubljana, Salzburg); 1682

While most of Valvasor’s works partook of the spirit of scientific inquiry, and were based on painstaking research and the careful observation of natural phenomena, at least one other of his publications hints, meanwhile, that this spirit coexisted with a decidedly conventional moral and religious outlook: this was his Theatrum Mortis Humanæ Tripartitum, of 1682: an emblem-book of sorts devoted to the subject of Death. As its title states, the book is in three parts. The first, and longest section is a todten-danz a ‘dance of death’ in which Death, personified as a skeleton, is shown surprising figures representative of all ranks & professions, from Popes and Emperors, by way of Merchants and Soldiers, to Beggars, Dotards and Infants. Each encounter is illustrated by an engraving, and is accompanied by some verses in Latin and German, often in the form a brief dialogue between Death and his chosen victim

In the book’s second section, Varia Genera Mortis, we are presented with a catalogue of notable deaths: many of its pages are devoted to the demises of historical or legendary personages. While a couple of these have some element of black comedy about them (such as the dramatist Æschylus’s death by falling tortoise, shown in the detail below), the prevailing mood is one of cruelty and grim suffering. Other pages show unnamed victims of persecution and punishment: buryings, hangings & impalements; while in one scene (the second of the details that follow) we see some unfortunate fellows being pursued & bitten by a dragon. As bad as these scenes are, Valvasor was evidently keen to emphasise that these were as nothing when compared with the torments that awaited the souls of the damned, as vividly documented in the book’s third section, Varia Tormenta Damnatorum.

The present images are details of scans taken from a reprint of the Theatrum published by Georg Olms Verlag in 2004. Click on them to see them enlarged, and in full. The book’s illustrations were the work of one Johann (or Janez) Koch (ca. 1650-1705).

The final pair of details above show, respectively, a former coveter of his neighbour’s wife unwillingly submitting to some impromptu surgery administered by a pair of demons with a large saw, and a soul guilty of the deadly sin of sloth, about to recieve a sharp wake-up call…