The Danse Macabre (from the French language), also called the Dance of Death, is an artistic genre of allegory of the Late Middle Ages on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the Dance Macabre unites all.
The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and laborer. It was produced as memento mori, to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now-lost mural at Holy Innocents' Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424 to 1425.
The earliest recorded visual example is the lost mural on the south wall of the cemetery of the Holy Innocents in Paris, which was painted in 1424-25 during the regency of John, Duke of Bedford: with its emphatic inclusion of a dead crowned king at a time when France did not have a crowned king, the mural may well have had a political subtext. There were also painted schemes in Basel (the earliest dating from c.1440); a series of paintings on canvas by Bernt Notke, in Lübeck (1463); the initial fragment of the original Bernt Notke painting (accomplished at the end of the 15th century) in the St Nicholas' Church, Tallinn, Estonia (Danse Macabre); the painting at the back wall of the chapel of Sv. Marija na Škrilinama in the Istrian town of Beram (1471), painted by Vincent of Kastav; the painting in the Holy Trinity Church, Hrastovlje, Istria by John of Kastav (1490).
A notable example was painted on the cemetery walls of the Dominican Abbey in Bern by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch in 1516/7. This work was destroyed when the wall was torn down in 1660, but a 1649 copy by Albrecht Kauw is extant. There was also a Dance of Death painted around 1430 and displayed on the walls of Pardon Churchyard at Old St Paul's Cathedral, London, with texts by John Lydgate, known as the 'Dauce of (St) Poulys', which was destroyed in 1549.
The deathly horrors of the 14th century such as recurring famines, the Hundred Years' War in France, and, most of all, the Black Death, were culturally assimilated throughout Europe. The omnipresent possibility of sudden and painful death increased the religious desire for penance, but it also evoked a hysterical desire for amusement while still possible; a last dance as cold comfort. The danse macabre combines both desires: in many ways similar to the mediaeval mystery plays, the dance-with-death allegory was originally a didactic dialogue poem to remind people of the inevitability of death and to advise them strongly to be prepared at all times for death (see memento mori and Ars moriendi).
Short verse dialogues between Death and each of its victims, which could have been performed as plays, can be found in the direct aftermath of the Black Death in Germany and in Spain (where it was known as the Totentanz and la Danza de la Muerte, respectively). The French term danse macabre may derive from the Latin Chorea Machabæorum, literally "dance of the Maccabees." In 2 Maccabees, a deuterocanonical book of the Bible, the grim martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons is described and was a well-known mediaeval subject. It is possible that the Maccabean Martyrs were commemorated in some early French plays or that people just associated the book's vivid descriptions of the martyrdom with the interaction between Death and its prey.
An alternative explanation is that the term entered France via Spain, the Arabic: مقابر, maqabir (cemetery) being the root of the word. Both the dialogues and the evolving paintings were ostensive penitential lessons that even illiterate people (who were the overwhelming majority) could understand.
Frescoes and murals dealing with death had a long tradition and were widespread, e.g. the legend of the Three Living and the Three Dead: on a ride or hunt, three young gentlemen meet three cadavers (sometimes described as their ancestors) who warn them, Quod fuimus, estis; quod sumus, vos eritis (What we were, you are; what we are, you will be). Numerous mural versions of that legend from the 13th century onwards have survived (for instance, in the Hospital Church of Wismar or the residential Longthorpe Tower outside Peterborough). Since they showed pictorial sequences of men and corpses covered with shrouds, those paintings are sometimes regarded as cultural precursors of the new genre.
A danse macabre painting may show a round dance headed by Death or a chain of alternating dead and live dancers. From the highest ranks of the mediaeval hierarchy (usually pope and emperor) descending to its lowest (beggar, peasant, and child), each mortal's hand is taken by a skeleton or an extremely decayed body. The famous Totentanz by Bernt Notke in St. Mary's Church, Lübeck (destroyed during the Allied bombing of Lübeck in World War II), presented the dead dancers as very lively and agile, making the impression that they were actually dancing, whereas their living dancing partners looked clumsy and passive. The apparent class distinction in almost all of these paintings is completely neutralized by Death as the ultimate equalizer, so that a sociocritical element is subtly inherent to the whole genre. The Totentanz of Metnitz, for example, shows how a pope crowned with his mitre is being led into Hell by the dancing Death.
Usually, a short dialogue is attached to each victim, in which Death is summoning him (or, more rarely, her) to dance and the summoned is moaning about impending death. In the first printed Totentanz textbook (Anon.: Vierzeiliger oberdeutscher Totentanz, Heidelberger Blockbuch, approx. 1460), Death addresses, for example, the emperor:
Emperor, your sword won't help you out
Sceptre and crown are worthless here
I've taken you by the hand
For you must come to my dance
At the lower end of the Totentanz, Death calls, for example, the peasant to dance, who answers:
I had to work very much and very hard
The sweat was running down my skin
I'd like to escape death nonetheless
But here I won't have any luck
|The Dance of Death|
Example of a woodcut from the book.
|Author||Hans Holbein the Younger|
|Original title||Danse Macabre|
|Genre||Allegory, satire, woodcuts and death.|
The famous designs by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497–1543) for his Dance of Death series were drawn in 1526 while he was in Basel. They were cut in wood by the accomplished Formschneider (block cutter) Hans Lützelburger. William Ivins (quoting W.J. Linton) writes of Lützelburger's work: "'Nothing indeed, by knife or by graver, is of higher quality than this man's doing,' for by common acclaim the originals are technically the most marvelous woodcuts ever made."  These woodcuts soon appeared in proofs with titles in German. The first book edition, containing forty-one woodcuts, was published at Lyons by the Treschsel brothers in 1538. The popularity of the work and the currency of its message are underscored by the fact that there were eleven editions before 1562 and over the sixteenth century perhaps as many as a hundred unauthorized editions and imitations. Ten further designs were added in later editions.
The Dance of Death (1523–26) refashions the late-medieval allegory of the danse macabre as a reformist satire, and one can see the beginnings of a gradual shift from traditional to reformed religion. That shift had many permutations however, and in a thoroughly detailed study Natalie Zemon Davis has shown that the contemporary reception and afterlife of Holbein's designs lent themselves to neither purely Catholic or Protestant doctrine, but could be outfitted with different surrounding prefaces and sermons as printers and writers of different political and religious leanings took them up. Most importantly, it was "The pictures and the Bible quotations above them were the main attractions ... Both Catholics and Protestants wished, through the pictures, to turn men's thoughts to a Christian preparation for death.".
The 1538 edition which contained Latin quotations from the Bible above Holbein's designs, and a French quatrain below composed by Gilles Corrozet, actually did not credit Holbein as the artist. It bore the title: Les simulachres & / HISTORIEES FACES / DE LA MORT, AUTANT ELE/gammēt pourtraictes, que artifi/ciellement imaginées. / A Lyon. / Soubz l'escu de COLOIGNE. / M.D. XXXVIII. ("Images and Illustrated facets of Death, as elegantly depicted as they are artfully conceived.") These images and workings of death as captured in the phrase "historiees faces" of the title "are the particular exemplification of the way death works, the individual scenes in which the lessons of mortality are brought home to people of every station."  In his preface to the work Jean de Vauzèle, the Prior of Montrosier, addresses Jehanne de Tourzelle, the Abbess of the Convent at St. Peter at Lyons, and names Holbein's attempts to capture the ever-present, but never directly seen, abstract images of death "simulachres." He writes: "... simulachres les dis ie vrayement, pour ce que simulachre vient de simuler, & faindre ce que n'est point." ("Simulachre they are most correctly called, for simulachre derives from the verb to simulate and to feign that which is not really there.") He next employs a trope from the memento mori (remember we all must die) tradition and a metaphor from printing which well captures the undertakings of Death, the artist, and the printed book before us in which these simulachres of death barge in on the living: "Et pourtant qu'on n'a peu trouver chose plus approchante a la similitude de Mort, que la personne morte, on d'icelle effigie simulachres, & faces de Mort, pour en nos pensees imprimer la memoire de Mort plus au vis, que ne pourroient toutes les rhetoriques descriptiones de orateurs."  ("And yet we cannot discover any one thing more near the likeness of Death than the dead themselves, whence come these simulated effigies and images of Death's affairs, which imprint the memory of Death with more force than all the rhetorical descriptions of the orators ever could.").
Holbein's series shows the figure of "Death" in many disguises, confronting individuals from all walks of life. None escape Death's skeletal clutches, not even the pious. As Davis writes, "Holbein's pictures are independent dramas in which Death comes upon his victim in the midst of the latter's own surroundings and activities. This is perhaps nowhere more strikingly captured than in the wonderful blocks showing the plowman earning his bread by the sweat of his brow only to have his horses speed him to his end by Death. The Latin from the 1549 Italian edition pictured here reads: "In sudore vultus tui, vesceris pane tuo." ("Through the sweat of thy brow you shall eat your bread"), quoting Genesis 3.19. The Italian verses below translate: ("Miserable in the sweat of your brow,/ It is necessary that you acquire the bread you need eat,/ But, may it not displease you to come with me,/ If you are desirous of rest."). Or there is the nice balance in composition Holbein achieves between the heavy-laden traveling salesman insisting that he must still go to market while Death tugs at his sleeve to put down his wares once and for all: "Venite ad me, qui onerati estis." ("Come to me, all ye who [labor and] are heavy laden"), quoting Matthew 11.28. The Italian here translates: ("Come with me, wretch, who are weighed down,/ Since I am the dame who rules the whole world:/ Come and hear my advice,/ Because I wish to lighten you of this load.").
Musical examples include
The motif Death and the Maiden, is related to, and may have been derived from, the Danse Macabre. It has received numerous treatments in various media—most prominently Schubert's quartet of that name. Further developments of the Danse Macabre motif include Death and the King's Horseman, "Death and the Senator", "Death and the Compass", and Death and the Physician.
Bernt Notke (c. 1440 – before May 1509) was a late Gothic artist, working in the Baltic region. He has been described as one of the foremost artists of his time in northern Europe.Cantabile (symphonic suite)
Cantabile is a work composed from 2004 to 2009 by Frederik Magle. It consists of three symphonic poems (or movements) based on poems written by Henrik, the Prince Consort of Denmark published in his book Cantabile. The Cantabile suite was commissioned by the Danish Royal Family and the first movement was premiered in 2004. The second and third movements were premiered on June 10, 2009 at a concert in the Copenhagen Concert Hall celebrating Prince Henrik's 75th birthday. On both occasions the music was performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard.The music alternates between the sorrowful, which - according to the Prince Consort's biography (2010) - being unexpected at a birthday concert, caused unease among some of the guests present at the first performance of the Cortège & Danse Macabre in 2009, and sudden bursts of humour.Besides the original text by Prince Henrik in French, a Danish translation by Per Aage Brandt is also used in the work, and at places French and Danish is being sung at the same time.Danse Macabre (Grimm)
"Danse Macabre" is the 5th episode of the supernatural drama television series Grimm of season 1, which premiered on December 8, 2011, on NBC. The episode was written by series creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, and was directed by David Solomon. The episode was named for the symphonic poem Danse macabre, a piece of music played at several places in the episode by both the Reinigen Roddy Geiger and others.Danse Macabre (Notke)
Danse Macabre is a painting by Bernt Notke. The initial fragment of the original 30 metres (98.4 ft) wide painting (executed at the end of the 15th century) has been preserved and is currently displayed in St. Nicholas' Church, Tallinn.Danse Macabre (album)
Danse Macabre is the third studio album by the rock band The Faint. It was released on August 21, 2001 in the U.S. and roughly a year later in the UK, where it has enjoyed similar popularity.
This album is the 37th release of Saddle Creek Records.
The first pressing of Danse Macabre on vinyl and CD included a different, unauthorized photo that led to them being pulled and having the covers re-printed with an image of The Faint member Dapose.
The album was followed in 2003 by the Danse Macabre Remixes. The remix album includes mixes by Photek, Junior Sanchez and Paul Oakenfold, among others.Danse Macabre (book)
Danse Macabre is a 1981 non-fiction book by Stephen King, about horror fiction in print, TV, radio, film and comics, and the influence of contemporary societal fears and anxieties on the genre. It was republished on February 23, 2010 with an additional new essay entitled "What's Scary".
Danse Macabre examines the various influences on King's own writing, and important genre texts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Danse Macabre explores the history of the genre as far back as the Victorian era, but primarily focuses on the 1950s to the 1970s (roughly the era covering King's own life at the time of publication). King peppers his book with informal academic insight, discussing archetypes, important authors, common narrative devices, "the psychology of terror", and his key theory of "Dionysian horror".
King's novel The Stand was published in Spanish as La danza de la muerte 'The Dance of Death', which caused some confusion between the two books (A later Spanish edition of this novel was titled Apocalipsis 'Apocalypse'). The same happened in Brazil and Portugal with both countries translating The Stand as "A Dança da Morte", meaning also "The Dance of Death". Similarly, his 1978 collection of short stories Night Shift was released in France as Danse macabre in 1980. To avoid confusion, the actual "Danse Macabre" essay was given the title "Anatomie de l'horreur" ("An Anatomy of Horror") when it was released in France 14 years later, in 1995.Danse Macabre (disambiguation)
Danse Macabre is a late-medieval allegory of the universality of death.
Danse Macabre may also refer to:
Danse Macabre (book), a nonfiction book by Stephen King
Danse Macabre (novel), a novel by Laurell K. Hamilton
Danse Macabre (album), a 2001 album by The Faint
Danse macabre (Saint-Saëns), a tone poem for orchestra composed by Camille Saint-Saëns
Danse Macabre Records, a German record label
"Danse Macabre", a song by Celtic Frost from Morbid Tales
"Dance Macabre" (song), a 2018 song by Ghost from Prequelle
"Dance Macabre", a song by Decapitated from Winds of Creation
"Danse Macabre", a song by Dead End from Ghost of Romance
"Danse Macabre", an episode of the TV series Jonathan Creek
Cortège & Danse Macabre, a symphonic poem from Frederik Magle's Cantabile suite
"Danse Macabre" (Grimm), an episode of the US television series Grimm
"Danse Macabre", a song by The Agonist from Eye of Providence
Danse Macabre (Notke), a painting by Bernt Notke
Dance Macabre (film), a 1992 horror film
Danse Macabre (film), a 2009 Canadian short drama filmDanse Macabre (film)
Danse Macabre is a Canadian short drama film, directed by Pedro Pires and released in 2009. The film portrays the "dance" of a dead body twitching and writhing as it is drained of fluids in preparation for its embalming.The corpse was portrayed by dancer Anne Bruce Falconer.The film won the award for Best Canadian Short Film at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and was named to TIFF's year-end Canada's Top Ten list. It won the Genie Award for Best Live Action Short Drama at the 30th Genie Awards,Danse Macabre (novel)
Danse Macabre is the fourteenth book in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series of horror/mystery/erotica novels by Laurell K. Hamilton.Danse Macabre Records
Danse Macabre Records is a record label based in Wirsberg, Germany and founded by members of Das Ich. It gained popularity in the early 1990s, at the same time that the German Dark Wave movement experienced a marked upswing.Danse Macabre Remixes
Danse Macabre Remixes is the second remix album (following the limited pressing of the Blank-Wave Arcade Remix LP) by the indie rock band The Faint, with remixes from their 2001 album Danse Macabre. It was released on April 1, 2003. There is also a special triple vinyl edition featuring a bonus remix of the track Violent by local Omaha, Nebraska artist, Adam Willis.Danse macabre (Saint-Saëns)
Danse macabre, Op. 40, is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. It is in the key of G minor. It started out in 1872 as an art song for voice and piano with a French text by the poet Henri Cazalis, which is based on an old French superstition. In 1874, the composer expanded and reworked the piece into a tone poem, replacing the vocal line with a solo violin part.La Danse Macabre (album)
La Danse Macabre is the third album by the Swedish doom metal band Memento Mori. It is their only album without singer and founder Messiah Marcolin. It was released in 1996 by Black Mark Production.La Grande Danse Macabre
La Grande Danse Macabre is the seventh studio album by Swedish black metal band Marduk. It was recorded and mixed at The Abyss in December 2000 and released on March 5, 2001, by Regain Records. La Grande Danse Macabre is the last Marduk album with Fredrik Andersson on drums.
The Century Media release has different cover art, one found on T-shirts.
The album's title is French for "The Great Dance of Death".
The title track ends with a quote from Johan Olof Wallins poem "Angel of Death".Le Rouet d'Omphale
Le Rouet d'Omphale (The Spinning Wheel of Omphale or Omphale's Spinning Wheel), Op. 31, is a symphonic poem for orchestra, composed by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1871. It is one of the most famous of the four symphonic poems in a mythological series by Saint-Saëns. The other three in the series are Danse macabre, Phaëton, and La jeunesse d'Hercule.
The middle section of Le Rouet d'Omphale was used as the theme music to the radio drama, The Shadow.Macabre
In works of art, macabre (US: mə-KAHB or UK: ; French: [makabʁ]) is the quality of having a grim or ghastly atmosphere. The macabre works to emphasize the details and symbols of death. The term also refers to works particularly gruesome in nature.Obedience (album)
Obedience is the third EP by Swedish black metal band Marduk. It was recorded and mixed at The Abyss in December 1999 and released on February 7, 2000. "Obedience" and "Funeral Bitch" were re-recorded for the band's 2001 album, La Grande Danse Macabre (the former being retitled "Obedience unto Death"). Peter Tägtgren, who mixed the band's previous efforts since 1996's Heaven Shall Burn... When We Are Gathered, was not involved with this recording; instead mixing was handled by Tommy Tägtgren. Peter Tägtgren returned to mixing Marduk's recordings in December 2000 when the band began recording La Grande Danse Macabre. Obedience was the first Marduk release by Regain Records.Seachanges (with Danse Macabre)
Seachanges is a piece of music written by Raymond Deane in 1993.
The piece is scored for Flute and Piccolo in G, Piano, Violin, Violoncello, and Percussion. The percussion includes Gong, maracas, rainstick, Crotales, Marimba, Cymbals, Guiro and Bass Drum.The Faint
The Faint is an American indie rock band. Formed in Omaha, Nebraska, the band consists of Todd Fink, Graham Ulicny, Dapose and Clark Baechle. The Faint was originally known as Norman Bailer and included Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes, with whom the Faint toured in 2005). He quit shortly after the band was formed, though the Faint continued to share a spot with Bright Eyes on Saddle Creek Records.
Death and mortality in art