Berlin's Dance of Death, Part 5

Berlin's dance of death, part 5
Jesus, emperor, empress and king

Jesus on the cross

(Gi) cristene lude arme unde rike
junge unde olde algelike
(vor) jw e.......ik ghestorven byn
gy muthen alle (ok des dodes syn)
(vor) ju mut ik draghen van scharpen darne enen krantz
kamet al met my an den dodendantz
(ok) gy geystliken cristen grot vnde klene
........................alghemene
set wu ik vor jw leth den bittren doet
gy muten alle steruen dat is not
an den dodendantz (jw) beredet
gy muthen ok dantzen (mede)
You Christian people, poor and rich,
young and old likewise
For you............have I died.
You too must all become Death's.
For you I must wear a wreath of sharp thorns
Come all with me to the dance of death,
also you clerical Christians, great and small
.............all together
See, how I - for you - suffer the bitter death.
You must all die; that is unavoidable.
For the dance of death prepare your self.
You must also dance along.

Emperor

Her keyser stolt edel vnde mechtichlik
vp erden hebbe gy ghehad dat hemmelrik
eyn gud walstalt wiff dar thu perde schone
nu legghet neder snellik dy guldene krone
haldet jw thu den dodendantze bereyt
gy muthen met es sy iw lyff edder leyd

Och jhesu criste barmhertige got
ik muth steruen des dodes ed ys neyn spoth
vnde gan an dessen dantz der druffheit
vorlaten alle (der) werlde frolickeit
hyr dencken..........dy sund......
unde help......... doet........
Mr Emperor - proud, noble and mighty.
On Earth you have had the Paradise.
A good, beautiful wife - and furthermore lovely horses.
Now lay down quickly your golden crown.
Keep yourself prepared for the dance of death.
You must along - be it dear or sad to you.

Oh Jesus Christ, merciful God.
I shall die the death - this is no joke -
and go to this dance of sadness -
leave all the frolic of the world.
Think here.................
and help......... Death........

Empress

Keyserinne hoghe frowe gebaren
ik hebbe iw sunderliken vterkaren
gy muthen tho des dodes dantze yo mede
synt gy gerne draghen al dy nygen klede
gevet ende vnde duth my iuwe hant
gy muthen snel met my yn eyn ander lan(t)

0 we my arme wiff v....wach.....
dat ik geleuet hebbe al....
ik mach an dere...............
nemet.....gy.....
.....syeth wu gruw(elik)...
........................
Empress, highborn lady.
I have chosen you in particular.
You must [go] to the dance of death, you too,
since you willingly wear all the new clothes.
Make an end and give me your hand,
you must quickly [go] with me into another land.

Oh woe, I poor wife...........
that I have lived........
...................
take.......you.......
.....see how gruesome......
........................

King

Her konig med iwen gulden stucke
in desser werlt hebbe gy gehath grot gelucke
alle mensken sinth nha iwen willen wesen
an den dod dachte gy nicht eyne wesen
...e unde des rikeß was mengerleye
......her vnser......n neygen.

...(d)oth...........dragen
.....................
....................
......unde wille nicht..
...........en.en.........
.....................
Mr. King with your golden clothes.
In this world have you had great luck,
all people have been according to your will,
You haven't thought a bit about Death.
.....and to the kingdom were many kinds
.....................yield.

.......death...........wear
.....................
....................
.........and would not...
.............................
.....................

Crucifixion in Berlin with eight lines of text.
Crucifixion in Berlin

Jesus and the figures surrounding him are smaller than the rest of the dance of death. It has been suggested that the crucifixion could have been painted before the rest of the dance of death - but this was disproved in 1955, when it was shown that the same plaster was used in the crucifixion scene as in the rest of the fresco.

A better explanation is that this scene is smaller because it's painted on a pillar and therefore protrudes towards the audience. By reducing the closer scene, the overall proportions are retained.

Crucifixion from Dodendantz.
Crucifixion from Dodendantz

The text is a story in itself. Lübke makes the point that Jesus only has eight lines as opposed to the dancing couples, who all have twelve lines. Prüfer reproduces the letters on his drawing (top of this page). This drawing (and the photo to the left) clearly shows that there are indeed only eight lines of text - and with great gaps. Nevertheless, Seelmann — without any explanation — arranges the text into twelve lines, and all later scholars follow Seelmann. Apparently the eight lines must be broken in order to make twelve.

After Jesus follows now all the laity - starting with the emperor. One problem here is that the emperor and everybody else are turning their back on Jesus. This could be explained by assuming that the figures are dancing in a circle - with the cross standing in the middle (in the same manner as the burghers in Lübeck's dance of death are dancing around the city of Lübeck).

It's probably just a coincidence, but there's also a crucifixion scene in the middle of Dodendantz (see picture to the right). This might be another example of the close relationship between Berlin's dance of death and Dodendantz. There was also a crucified Jesus in the middle of the dance in Kleinbasel. The dance in Bern had a crucifixion scene in the beginning.


Up to Berlin's dance of death