The Dance of Death in Ronneby

The dance of death in Ronneby
The dance of death in Ronneby, Photo by Harald Anderson, 2004
The dance of death in Ronneby, 1911
Photo by Allan Norblad, Riksantikvarieämbetet/ATA
The dance of death in Ronneby
Photo from kalkmalerier.dk
The dance of death in Ronneby

The origin of this mural is estimated to be ca. 1580 like most other frescoes in the church. After the so-called "Ronneby bloodbath" September 4th 1564 — a massacre during the Nordic Seven Years War lead by the Swedish King Erik XIV — the church was renovated and decorated with speciel aid in the form of tax exemptions by the Danish king Frederik II in the 1580ies.

Another hint about the age is that the artist has portrayed Death as a skeleton instead on a cadaver, and even rendered the skeletons anatomically correct. This places the mural some time after Andreas Vesalius having published De Corporis Fabrica in 1543. For more about this, see Holbein's great blunder.

The fresco is placed on the southern wall, and the dancing couples are separated by small shrubs with green leaves. In the book "Sveriges kyrkor, konsthistoriskt inventarium; Blekinge; Volume IV, booklet 1, Ronneby" from 1958, Armin Tuulse was able to discern these figures going from west (i.e. from the right in the dance):

  1. Woman in dark jacket and bonnet-like headgear.
  2. Man in black hat, red-brown cloak and trousers, carrying a broad-axe on the right shoulder.
  3. Woman in dark jacket and white collar, raises the left hand towards her face while crying.
  4. Man in green hat with plume, green sleeves, brown cloak. He's carrying a sword and hold in the other an object, which may be interpreted as a gun.
  5. Woman in long black mantle.
  6. Fragment of a figure in black dress.
  7. Fragment of a figure in reddish-brown cloak, who raises the hand towards the face.
  8. Fragment of a figure in yellow dress.
  9. Fragment of a figure in yellow and reddish-brown.
  10. Woman in long yellow dress and white mantle.
  11. Man in black hat and red-yellow plume. Coat with edge (red-black-yellow). Possibly a warrior.
Photo by Harald Anderson, 2004
The dance of death in Ronneby
The dance of death in Ronneby, 1935
Photo by A. Edle, Riksantikvarieämbetet/ATA
The dance of death in Ronneby

Above the mural are fragments of a Latin inscription, and in the upper part of the painting there's a Danish inscription, but this too has only survived in fragments: "Fyrstinde" (princess) and "Bonde oc Bondequinde" (peasant and peasant woman). The height is set to 115 cm and the length 7 meters.

Tuulse adds that the rest of the figures are totally obliterated, but he guesses that there might have been a priest introducing the dance of death, like is happens in so many other dances of death.

The fresco was "mycket hårt skadad" (i.e. very badly damaged) already then in 1958. The dance of death was restored in 1941, which means that the black and white photos on this page are from before the restoration. One can image that the same thing has happened as in Berlin, namely that during modern restorations, paint from earlier restoration has been removed, so that only the original lines remain.


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