Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play, “Everyman: A Play of the Rich Man’s Death” [Jedermann: Das Spiel vom Sterben des Reichen Mannes”], was, when it was written in 1911, a modern adaptation of medieval mystery plays. In it, God sends Death to summon the rich bon viveur Jedermann [“Everyman”]. Jedermann tries to convince the other people in his life to accompany him on his pilgrimage, and in each of the interactions between Jedermann and the other characters we see a demonstration of the conflict between good and evil. Through those actions we learn that everyone is essentially alone in their journey of life, even if so many people seem to be with us. The play ends with Jedermann realizing that when you are ultimately brought before God, all you are left with are your own good deeds. Jedermann is, of course, a stand-in for everyone: Everyone has to die, everyone has to learn the lesson that each person stands on his or her own record of doing good.
In 1931, Emma Schlangenhausen made a series of twelve woodcuts illustrating Jedermann. This picture is the second in the series, depicting God instructing Death to, “Go to Everyman”. It is dramatic and powerful, and a superb demonstration of Jedermann’s extraordinary ability to evoke emotion from a woodcut. It is interesting, too, in its depiction of Death not as a terrible creature but as a beautiful being, with a halo proving his holiness.
The Jedermann portfolio is believed to have been printed in an edition of 20. Works from this portfolio are exceptionally rare, very few having survived World War II. One of the few remaining portfolios is held by the Salzburg Museum.