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Edit. de Troyes. Folio. Sans date. Nicholas Le Rouge. Sold for 19 francs at the Gaignat sale. La Grande Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes,
Historiée et Renouvellée de vieux Gaulois en Langage le
plus poly de notre tems. Le debat du Corps et de l'Ame. Le Complainte de l'Ame damnée.
L'Exhortation de bien vivre et de bien mourir.
This is a very singular and curious production, as much on account of the spirited wood cuts, which resemble in form those ornamenting the earliest Speculum, as for the French Versification or Dialogues by Marot, in explanation of this Dance of Death-the original of which evidently appears to have been Hans Holbein's exemplar in his “ Triomphe de la Mort,"* wherein he has taken pretty ncarly all the personages in the Danse Macabre, and amplified the subject; but to my mind the story is much better and more distinctly told in its rude original, than in what seems to be only a more polished copy. .
Hans Holbein was born 1498, and the first edition of the Danse Macabre appeared 1485.
* It is Warton's opinion that the Dance of Death cut in Wood was the work of Albert Durer and not of Hans Holbein. Rubens set the highest value on it and recommended it to Sandraart, informing him at the same time that he in his youth had copied it. See more on this subject in Wartou's Observations, vol. ïi. p. 117, &c.
The Troyes edition of 1723, by the Widow Oudot, I have; it consists of 38 leaves, having wood-cut head-pieces to almost every page : each cut of the Danse Macabre contains four figures, viz. two of Death and two of the Personages he is addressing. The Vignette to the Title-page represents four Skeletons playing in concert, on bagpipe, hurdy gurdy, harp, pipe and tabor. At the back of the Title, is a representation of the Author, and facing him three emblematical figures, and beneath are 16 lines in verse. The next leaf begins the Work by a repetition of the Vignette on the Title, and a Poetical Quartetto by these Skeleton Performers, and, as a specimen, I shall give the chant of
Le Troisiéme Mort.
Ces cent ans sont bientot passez. These four relentless personages then quit their troubadour occupation, and begin to lay violent hands on the Pope, the Emperor, the Cardinal, and the King: the Pope wishes to excuse himself from quadrilling with Death, and pleads ineffectually his sanctity as God's Vicar, and the bearer of St. Peter's keys.—The Emperor seems less unwilling, as he does not know where to appeal against Death's unmannerly citation, and thinks a death bed easier and lighter than an Emperor's throne and diadem.-The Cardinal is told he must throw off his rich robes with his astonishment, and join in the dance.Death then addresses the King as follows :
Reponse du Roy.
Aux Loix fatales du Trepas. In the succeeding pages Death dances a measure with men of various conditions and situations in life, from the highest to the lowest ; with the Sage, the Buffoon, the Soldier, as well as the Ecclesiastic.
The last trumpet then sounds, and a vision in verse succeeds. After which comes La Danse Macabre des Femmes, &c. &c.
La Danse des Morts, comme elle est depeinte dans la louable
et celebre Ville de Basle, pour servir d'un Miroir de la nature humaine, gravée sur l'original de Math. Merian, avec des Vers à chaque fig. en Allemand et en François. 4to: 1744, 1756, and 1789.
The first edition (1744) of this work is looked upon as the best, on account of the carly impressions. It differs materially from Deuchar's Etchings of Holbein's Designs, and is also totally different in its versification from the Danse Macabre bofore mentioned.
The History of the origin of this monument of mortality, depicted in the cemetry near the Dominican Convent at Bâle, throws a light on the subject, which I believe not to be generally known. It appears to have been commemorative of the plague which raged at Bâle in the year 1439, during the sitting of the Great Council, and which committed great devastation, and amongst the rest carried off various persons of quality, as well as Cardinals and Prelates, many of whom were interred in this Cemetry, but still greater numbers in the Chartreuse.
The Emperor Sigismund being an encourager of the arts, either employed Jean d'Eick, who, according to Merian, invented the art of oil painting,* (painting in distemper being the only mode previously known,) or some other celebrated Artist, whose name may have been lost, to execute this praiseworthy work. It is very remarkable, says Merian, that in this Work men of almost all conditions and ranks are naturally depicted, and in the dress of the period. The figure of the Pope represents Felix V. who was elected in the place of Eugene. The representation of the Emperor is the true Portrait of Sigismund;+ that of the King is the Portrait of Albert
* Beckman, in his History of Inventions, if I remember correctly, dates the Origin of Oil Painting much earlier than Jean d'Eick's time.
+ A rude representation certainly, but as Granger says of the Portraits of William the Conqueror, "Accuracy of Drawing is not to be expected in an age in which the generality of Artists had not arrived at sufficient precision to distinguish between a Monkey and a Man.”
the 2d, then King of the Romans.-All these Personages assisted at the Council. The descriptions beneath were in German, which, as time had in some degree effaced both the Painting and the Inscriptions, the Magistrate had them retouched in 1568 by one Klauber of Bâle, who succeeded so well in his restoration, that it is said not the smallest difference from the original was perceptible. In the whole length of the wall there yet remained some space, the painter therefore added the image of the pious and learned Jean Oecolampade, in memory of the Reformation recently effected : viz. in 1529, and, as a finish to the work, he pourtrayed himself, wife, and children in the dress of the period. It again experienced reparation many years after, and in its then state Merian depicted it.*
If this be the true history of the Dance of Death, which I at present see no reason to disbelieve, similar representations or copies were soon transmitted and became popular in other cities; among the rest the walls of St. Innocent's Cloister, at Paris, were thus ornamented, and according to Warton in his observations on Spenser, one Machabre, a French Poet, wrote a description of it in verse; whence no doubt originated the title of “ Danse Macabre.” Stow, in his Survey of London, speaking of the cloisters which anciently belonged to St. Paul's Church, says, about this cloister was artificially and richly painted the Dance of Machabray, or Dance of Pauls; the like whereof was painted about St. Innocent's Cloister at
* The 85th and last plate in Merian's book is a very singular one ; it perfectly represents a good looking healthy man, with whiskers, beard, hair, and a ruff round his neck; turn the book upside down, and a most horrible Death's head, as accurately delineated, presents ijself.