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The dance of death: death and the portrait. Coloured aquatint by T. Rowlandson, 1816.

Rowlandson, Thomas, 1756-1827.

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Credit: The dance of death: death and the portrait. Coloured aquatint by T. Rowlandson, 1816. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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About this work


[Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified]

Physical description

1 print : aquatint, with watercolour ; image 11.8 x 20.6 cm


Nature and truth are not at strife: death draws his pictures after life.

Publications note

R.R. Wark, Rowlandson's drawings for the English dance of death, San Marino, California 1966, pp. 3-27
J.R. Abbey, Life in England in aquatint and lithography 1770-1860, San Francisco 1991, no. 263.


Wellcome Library no. 31981i

Creator/production credits

Rowlandson's "The English dance of death" was a cooperative venture. Apart from himself, who produced the drawings between 1814 and 1816, William Combe and Rudolph Ackermann were important participants in this production. William Combe wrote two volumes of verses which were intended to facilitate the understanding of the images. Nevertheless, the two lines of text that appear below the images are thought to have been composed by Rowlandson himself. Rudolph Ackermann, who had a print shop in the Strand, promoted and published the prints after Rowlandson's designs. The outlines were first etched onto the plates and the tonality was achieved with the addition of aquatint. The prints were finally hand-coloured by workers in Ackermann's print shop. Conceived as a book, Rowlandson's prints were issued monthly, three being published at a time with accompanying texts, from April 1, 1814, until March 1, 1816. Rowlandson's dance of death differs from previous representations of this subject matter in that the moralizing aspect of death equalizing everyone it approaches, regardless of class, looses in importance. Rather, Rowlandson was interested in depicting a variety of situations in which Death appears. Thus, these prints do not fulfill a didactic function but are instead humorous and reveal the inventiveness of the artist



  • English

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