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

  • Rowlandson, Thomas, 1756-1827.
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Credit: The dance of death: the battle. Coloured aquatint by T. Rowlandson, 1816. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

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About this work


One of the coloured aquatints in the series The English Dance of death. The Dance of death in the Middle Ages was a set of paintings or prints in which Death, in the form of a skeleton, seizes a member of a particular class (a king, a bishop, a peasant, a nobleman, a physician etc.) and dances away with them, representing the subjection of all people, however exalted, to the powers of death. Such paintings were painted for example in the Mariakirche in Lübeck, Germany (destroyed in World War II) and on the Spreuer Bridge in Luzern, Switzerland. In 1814 the humorous artist Thomas Rowlandson started to create a distinctive "English Dance of death": Rowlandson produced aquatints of contemporary scenes showing death, William Combe (a productive hack writer) wrote verses describing the scenes, and the combined pictures and texts were published by the entrepreneur Rudolph Ackermann from his fashionable shop in the Strand, London, at a rate of three prints a month from 1 April 1814 to 1 March 1816. Sudden death in the family, as depicted by Rowlandson, was the experience of many people in civil life: Thomas Rowlandson's younger brother James was one of 150 people killed in an explosion when the ship the Duke of Atholl unexpectedly blew up in Madras harbour (Chennai) in 1783. But when looking at this particular print we should bear in mind the Napoleonic wars: the battle of Waterloo was fought on 18 June 1815, with great loss of life. This battle scene might be considered one of the least amusing prints in the whole series


[London] : [Ackermann]

Physical description

1 print : aquatint, with watercolour ; image 12.1 x 21.4 cm

References note

J.R. Abbey, Life in England in aquatint and lithography 1770-1860, San Francisco 1991, no. 263.


Wellcome Library no. 31900i



  • English

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