Latin Capital Letter Alphabet (Death Alphabet)

Prior to the Images of Death, Holbein designed a Latin alphabet for Lützelburger that showcased the latter’s dexterity at woodcutting. The minuscule compositions expertly render action, emotion, and three-dimensionality—qualities that the other blockcutters who worked with Holbein could not as effectively achieve. The capital letters were intended to be used in a printed book to begin a paragraph or section of text (what is often called a “drop cap” today). This print was produced as an advertisement for Lützelburger, however, and the letters themselves appeared only in a few books published in Basel during the 1520s and ’30s.

Hans Lützelburger (1495?–1526), after designs by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98–1543)
Latin Capital Letter Alphabet (Death Alphabet), ca. 1523
Inscribed at bottom center, in German: Hans Lützelburger, blockcutter, called Franc [i.e., of French origin]
Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett, X.228