The dance at the castle

Georgenschloss, 1680
Dresden, Dresden
George the Bearded, 1537
Dresden, Duke George

Originally, the dance was located on the facade of a beautiful Renaissance castle built by Duke George the Bearded from 1534 to 1537. When crossing the Elbe river, Dresden's guests were greeted by the story of the Original Sin and death. At the same time, the newcomers were reminded that Death also reigned in this city.(1)

The image on the left is from "Der Chur-Fürstlichen […] Dresden" by Anton Weck from 1680 (see external link). The picture shows the facade: Above the gate was a skull with crossbones carved in stone, and above was the year of the foundation of the castle: 1534. Above again, was the family's motto: »Per Invidiam diaboli Mors Intravit In Orbem« (The Book of Wisdom 2:24).

The Book of Wisdom 2:24: Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.

Here a bay window started and the bottom of the bay window was designed as the Tree of Paradise with a serpent in the branches and flanked by Adam and Eve. Just below them were the fratricide of Cain and Abel. Thus, the dance of death was linked to the Original Sin, just as Hans Holbein would do four years later.

The bay window itself was decorated with portraits of the Duke, his wife Barbara and their two sons. The couple had had 10 children, but six of them were already dead. The same year that construction started, 1534, another daughter died, and shortly after died Duchess Barbara. For the rest of his life, Duke Georg left his beard untrimmed and therefore became known as Georg the Bearded.

Before construction was completed in 1537, another son had died. Of the count's 10 children, he was only survived by one.(2)

The dance of death to the left of the bay window

The dance itself took place on the third floor, but although the picture gives an impression of the composition of the facade, one should not trust the details too much.

The picture shows how the dance started to the left of the bay window with Death leading eight clergymen away ranging from pope to monk. The problem is that there should only be seven people, eight figures in total.

Another problem is that it appears from "Saxonia Numismatica" (see external link) that the bay window was located between the sixth and seventh figures: »Zwischen der sechsten und siebenden Figur steiget der Ercker von unten auff vollends unter das Tach / und präsentiret vier in Stein schön gehauene Bildnisse / deren vornehmstes Herzog Georgens selbst […]«.

The dance of death to the right of the bay window

To the right of the bay window, Death appears again, (if "Saxonia Numismatica" is to be believed, the last two clerical dancers were placed between the bay window and Death). Death now leads the laity: Eleven worldly people from emperor, king and duke to peasant and beggar. A total of 12 figures.

Technically, the dance consisted of plates with three figures on each plate. The exceptions are the plate with the last two clergy (those we do not know on which side were placed), and the four figures at the very end.

The Dance of Death, continued

After this, Weck (or his artist) becomes a bit too imaginative. It seems that Death reappears, this time beating a war drum, followed by five women, two men, a child, an old man and Death again. Here there are one Death, two women and one man too many.

In total, Weck shows 32 figures, while today there are only 27. It is tempting to think that there were 5 more back in 1680, when Weck produced his etching, and that these may have disappeared during the fire of the castle and the subsequent demolition, before our next witness Paul Hilscher.

Weck, the whole dance of death
Dresden, Dresden

But Weck hiself writes that there are 27: »Am dritten Geschoße aber ist gar etwas sonderliches zu sehen / nemlich der Todten-Tantz / wie solchen die alten Vorfahren zu Anerinnerung des vergänglichen Lebens vorgestellet / denn es seynd alda sieben und zwanzig Personen und Figuren / als: der Pabst mit seinen Geistlichen / […]« (pages 25-26).

In addition, Weck has produced the image of the complete dance on the left, where each figure is numbered from 1 to 27.

This drawing is far more accurate, but there are a few small flaws: Death is depicted with a kind of hat instead of a brush of hair, and the old man has a knife in his hand instead of a hat.

The most annoying thing, however, is that the artist has chosen to mirror half of the dancers (those in the bottom row).

Unfortunately, the castle burned in 1701.

Gå fremad

The next chapter in the series is about the dance after the fire.

External links

Footnotes: (1) (2)

These guests would arrive from Alt-Dresden. Until 1549, Dresden, south of the Elbe, and Alt-Dresden north of the Elbe, were two different cities.

The only one of Duke George's 10 children to survive him was Christine von Sachsen, who married Philipp von Hessen. On the other hand, her marriage was, to put it mildly, unusual.

Wikipedia tells the twisted story of Philipp von Hessen's bigamous marriage.