GRANDE DANSE MACABRE DES HOMMES
ET DES FEMMES
“Death is the best
invention ever by God. Since, we know we wanna live. But
play with it”
GREAT DANCE OF DEATH FOR MEN
Ouvrez les Yeux Mondains,
Voici votre Miroir - Je
Meurs, Et vous Mourrez Peut-Être Avant ce
La Grande Danse Macabre des
on the 1486 edition and subsequent copies by
Jehan Lecocq (Troyes
1539) & Garnier (Troyes 1641) A
medieval subject seen in an 18th.
Century incarnation, with references to
contemporary projected images.
Death in the now lost Cemetery
of the Innocents in Paris
from 1424 to 1425) is probably
the ancestor of all others.
This fresco decorated the southern
wall of the Innocents' cloister
in Paris, which was surrounded
by the largest cemetery of town.
The woodcuts used for these web
pages were published in a 19th.
Century re-edition of the
Danse Macabre with the
aid of the original woodblocks:
La grande danse Macabre des Hommes
et des Femmes, précedée du dict
des trois mors et des trois vifs,
du débat du corps et de l'ame,
et de la complaincte de l'ame
Baillieu / 1862. Libraire, Quai
des Grands-Augustains, No. 43.
original frescos were destroyed in 1669 during
road widening. In this period, the Danse Macabre
was already heavily damaged and was of little
interest to the people of Paris. The
contemporaries of Louis XIV rejected this artistic
genre that became popular in a "barbarian
period of history lacking all sense of esthetics"
However, two manuscripts with the original text
are in the collection of the National Library of
Thanks to Guyot Marchant,
a printer who published woodcuts
the famous Dance of Death, we still have some idea
of the pictorial appearance of the "father" of the
Danse Macabre genre.
The only known original copy of Marchant's
edition is now in the the library of Grenoble. It
is almost certain that the woodcuts of Marchant
are similar, but not identical in detail, to the
painted frescos in the Innocents' cemetery. The
columns used to separate the characters in the
woodcuts replace the original arches that where
part of the construction of the cloister.
This "translation" of a fresco into a book is
easily understood. Depicting the Dance of Death on
one single page was not possible and therefore the
characters are spread over several pages in the
book. Sometimes this caused confusion, e.g. it's
difficult to understand why the sergeant says:"Je
suis pris deça et delà" (I'm being
attacked on all sides), because death is depicted
on the next page.
Death in the Animated
Projected Image before
the invention of Cinema
nocturnal appearance for terrifying
nocturna ad terrorem videntium
da Fontana, circa 1420
Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae
Athanasius Kircher, 1671
Baillieu / 1862
The theme of death was very popular in the
previous centuries, and for that reason
it is not surprising that early examples
of projected images also confront us with
the end of life. (Even in the early period
of the Danse Macabre era)
E.g. the illustration of Giovanni da Fontana,
(above left) This drawing shows a man holding a lantern
projecting a demonic figure, also
seen inside the projecting device!
mouse over image!)
The text reads "a nocturnal appearance for terrifying
viewers" (Apparentia nocturna ad terrorem videntium) sic.
Many more early sources of projected images depict death and
death-related subjects: - Christiaan Huygens
Athanasius Kircher (1671), - Willem Jacob Storm van
's Gravesande (1721), - Wolfgang Schwarzkopf
In Kircher's images (The Great Art of
Light and Shadow) we see the projection of a
skeleton, and a soul burning in fire. (Move
mouse over image!)
The most famous example of death
in the projected image (18th. & 19th.Century) can be read and
seen on 12 different pages of Early Visual Media in the
history and explanation of Phantasmagoria techniques. The
latter could be seen as the forerunner of the
Horror theme in cinema. The last
3 images depict the death theme in the 13th. & 17th. Century
examples, contemporary with the Innocents' Danse Macabre in
Huygens, sketch for animated skeleton
University Library Leiden, Netherlands
Whether or not the appeareance of the theme of death in the projected
image was inspired by the Danse Macabre genre in painting and book
illustrations, the breading-ground of
general interest in, and fear of death was omnipresent in this long
period of history.
|In the Paris Danse Macabre, and others, people from
all classes in society are confronted with death. The figure of death,
always depicted as a skeleton or detoriorated body, does not
differentiate between the King or a
poor man. Everybody will come to his
end in the same unpleasant way, sooner or later.
The fresco in the innocents' starts with an introduction given by a
reciter, followed by the first, second, third & fourth death figure.
Then the first part,
death dance of men, starts with the
Pope, the Emperor, the Cardinal, the King, ... and finaly ends with
Then followed by a new reciter and the
death dance of women, starting with
the same four deaths and the Queen, the Duchess, ...etc.
|Le Premier, Second, Tier et Quart Mort
artist who painted the original fresco
in the innocents' cloister stays anonymous.
The original pessimistic poems however
are credited to Jean Gerson. Gerson's
text has a very cynical tone since he
makes fun of most of the men & women
confronted with death. He tells the abbot,
fattest man is the first to rot"
and says to the doctor that he is "...
unable to heal himself".
To the priest, death says: "You
liked the living as well as the death,
but the worms will like you"
The other two Danse Macabre pages on Visual
media shows all the woodcut illustrations.
roysonable Qui désires vie éternelle ..."
Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes / see woodcuts
the best Danse Macabre links on the Web