Toledo Museum Home

Storytelling in Miniature

Hans Sebald Beham
German, 1500–1550

The Lady and Death (Die Dame und der Tod)

Engraving, 1541
3 1/8 x 2 1/8 in.
William J. Hitchcock Fund in memory of Grace J. Hitchcock, 1986.57

In this print a young, well-dressed lady is shown standing in profile before a garden retaining wall. Beside her, a grinning death mask glares from under the hood of a fool. A potted lily, a flower often associated with virtue, rests on the raised ground on the right. The Fool/Death holds an hourglass, suggesting the brevity of life. The inscription at the top translates as, “Death abolishes all human life”—even the virtuous are not immune.

The composition is perhaps based on an earlier print by Albrecht Dürer called The Promenade. In The Promenade a young woman is seen in profile accompanied by a dashing young man, while Death lurks behind a tree. In Sebald’s print, Death appears to be looking past the young woman and directly at the viewer. Perhaps the artist is reminding us of our own mortality.