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Statuette - Death as a drummer

Death as a drummer

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Germany (Northern, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1670-1680 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Henne, Joachim, born 1630 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved elephant ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Temporary Exhibition, room 38

This exceptionally fine example of a freestanding ivory statuette has been convincingly attributed to the German artist Joachim Henne on the basis of its realism, drapery style, and technique of carving. Comparatively little is known of Henne’s life, including when and where he was born or died, or where he was trained. He worked in different centres in Germany and Denmark, specializing in small portrait reliefs and busts in ivory, though he also executed figure groups, and reliefs depicting mythological scenes. Although possibly from Jutland or North Germany, he may have trained in South Germany, in Ulm or Augsburg, and was active in Hamburg (1663-5), Gottorf (1665-7), and Copenhagen at the court of King Frederick III, and then under that of Frederick’s successor, King Christian V, from 1667 until 1691. He is thought to have travelled to Rome in 1691-2. From 1702-7 he is recorded as court miniature painter at the Brandenburg Court in Berlin, and he is also known to have worked in wood. This figure might date from c.1673, when Henne was in Copenhagen, although the dating is problematic, and it could be somewhat later. It is in a tradition which flourished particularly strongly in Germany from medieval times onwards, and especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. It could have been partly inspired by one of the figures in Hans Holbein's series of woodcuts of the Dance of Death, dating from 1538.
Figures of Death as mementi mori tied in with suggestions of the Fall of Man, and the fate of sinners. Henne was most active as a portraitist, although he also carved reliefs of religious and mythological subjects.

Physical description

Carved ivory statuette of a skeleton or emaciated corpse-like figure, wearing a plumed hat, and swathed and beating a drum, which no longer survives.

Place of Origin

Germany (Northern, made)


ca. 1670-1680 (made)


Henne, Joachim, born 1630 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Carved elephant ivory


Height: 27.5 cm including base, Width: 13 cm, Depth: 10 cm, Height: 2.7 cm Base, Width: 12.2 cm Base, Depth: 10 cm Base, Height: 23.5 cm ivory alone

Object history note

Bought for £10 10s in Paris in 1856 (vendor unrecorded).

Descriptive line

Statuette, ivory, of the skeletal figure of Death as a drummer, perhaps by Joachim Henne, northern German, ca. 1670-1680

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Weber, Frederick Parkes. Aspects of death and correlated aspects of life in art, epigram and poetry; contributions towards an anthology and an iconography of the subject; illustrated especially by medals, engraved gems, jewels, ivories, antique pottery, &c. London : T.F. Unwin, ltd.; B. Quaritch, ltd., 1918, p. 63, fig. 6
Kuhn, Dr. Katalog für die Ausstellung der Werke aelterer Meister. München : C. Wolf & Sohn, [1876]. Part 2: Katalog der Kunst und Kunstindustrie-Ausstellung alter und neuer deutscher Meister
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1856. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 32.
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 121, plate 220
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. Part II. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1929, p. 88.
Kuhn, Dr. Katalog für die Ausstellung der Werke älterer Meister. Part II: Katalog der Kunst und Kunstindustrie-Ausstellung alter und neuer deutscher Meister. Munich, Glaspalast, 1876, cat.no. 562.
Theuerkauff, Christian, “Jakob Dobbermann und Joachim Hennen – Anmerkungen zu einigen Kleinbildwerken”, in: Alte und Moderne Kunst, 24. Jahrgang, 162, 1979, p. 26, fig. 32
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, cat. no. 19
Beck, Herbert, and Bernhard Decker, Dürer's Verwandlung in der Skulptur Zwischen Renaissance und Barock, Frankfurt: Liebieghaus, 1982.

Labels and date

Death as a Drummer
About 1670–80

This emaciated figure recalls the long-standing visual tradition of the Dance of Death. It was made to remind people of their own mortality, warning them to prepare for death and eternal judgement. The inexorable drumming of Death (who has here lost his drum) summoned all men, women and children, whatever their status in life, to their inevitable end.


Possibly by Joachim Henne

Ivory [09.12.2015]

Production Note

Previously considered to be Flemish.





Subjects depicted

Mortality; Hats; Death; Drumsticks


Death; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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