Death is the best invention ever by God. Since, we know we wanna live. But play with it



Ouvrez les Yeux Mondains, Voici votre Miroir -
Je Meurs, Et vous Mourrez Peut-Être Avant ce soir

La Grande Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes, based 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.

The Dance of Death in the now lost Cemetery of the Innocents in Paris (Painted 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 dampnée
Paris, Baillieu / 1862. Libraire, Quai des Grands-Augustains, No. 43.

The 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 Paris.
Thanks to Guyot Marchant, a printer who published woodcuts (1485-1486) of 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.


in the Animated Projected Image before the invention of Cinema


Left: "a nocturnal appearance for terrifying viewers"


 Apparentia nocturna ad terrorem videntium
 Giovanni da Fontana, circa 1420

Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae
Athanasius Kircher, 1671

 Paris 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, circa 1420. (above left) This drawing shows a man holding a lantern projecting a demonic figure, also seen inside the projecting device!
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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 (1659), - Athanasius Kircher (1671), - Willem Jacob Storm van 's Gravesande (1721), - Wolfgang Schwarzkopf (1766)
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 Paris.


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 the poor.
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   l' Acteur

The 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, "
The 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. "O créature roysonable Qui désires vie éternelle ..." sic.

Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes / see woodcuts
View Titlepage

! see also
Death in Folk-Art !

  Perhaps the best Danse Macabre links on the Web  

Copyright: 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2017 - 2018 by Thomas Weynants
he online Media Archaeology Museum version (24) Jan 2017 to Dec 2018 - All rights are protected by SOFAM.be