The dance of death in Füssen

The dance of death in Füssen
Füssen

Pope
Emperor
Elector
Bishop
Princess
Physician
Merchant
Landlord
Usurer
Peasant
Abbot
Nobleman
noblewoman
Priest
Bailiff
Witch
Gambler
Maid
Child
Painter
The text

The dance is from 1602, and may be regarded as the fourth generation of The High German 4-lined Dance of Death.

The pope and physician are painted on the same plate.
The pope and physician

Neither the location in the great hall, nor the sequence of dancers, the baroque framework or the sign: "Sagt Ja Sagt Nein, Getanzt Muess sein" are original, but derive from a modernization of the room in 1701. At the same time, the prince-elector (and the landlord) was probably exchanged. with the bishop (and the usurer).(1)

The dance is painted on wooden boards with two scenes per plate — for instance the physician is painted below the Pope (picture to the right). Each scene measures 83 cm in width and 77 cm in height including the dialogues. Without the texts above and below, the height is 58 cm.

The 10 plates originally hung in a long corridor, and a spectator could then pass them and read the top 10 scenes: Pope, emperor, bishop, elector, princess, abbot, nobleman, noblewoman, priest and bailiff. The order is the classic one, starting with the two most powerful people, Pope and emperor, and then moving down the rungs of the social hierarchy while alternating between clerical and secular. The princess and the noblewoman are doubles of their husbands.

When the spectator proceeded with the bottom row, the dance continued with the physician, who was placed below the Pope. The physician was considered a cleric because he has studied, so he comes between the secular bailiff and merchant. He is also the last with whom Death uses the polite plural: Ihr, euch and euer, and the last, whom Death addresses as Mr. and Mrs.: "Herr Doctor," "Frau Fürstin," etc.

After this, we are so far down the societal ladder that Death uses the singular: "Du", "dich" and "dein" (like English: Thou, thee and thine). Here in the bottom row we meet merchant, usurer, landlord and the peasant, who lives outside the city. The dance ends with five figures who have no special position in society: witch, gambler, young woman, child and the painter himself.

Inspiration

The usurer's dialogue is the same as in Basel.
Hiebeler, Usurer

The dance is clearly inspired by the dance of death in Basel. Six of the dancers were largely copied from there: Pope, emperor, elector, physician, usurer and young woman. Seven of the dancers are a "mosaic" of different dialogues from Basel; for instance the princess' dialogue is a mix of three of the women in Basel: the empress, the queen and the duchess.

Two of the dialogues are original, but still with an "echo" from Basel, namely the peasant and the child. Five of the twenty figures are original: Landlord, priest, witch and gambler. The picture of the noblewoman with her mirror can remind of the same scene in Basel, but the text is original.

The dance is also claimed to be inspired by the dance in Bern, but the few examples I can find — the painter's self-portraying and the allusion to the young woman's red lips, that are about to become pale — are precisely where Bern and Basel have points of similarity.

It is also claimed without reservation that the dance was inspired by Holbein's Great Dance of Death. Holbein's dance has been known through the countless copies, but in fact it has not made much imprint in Füssen. On this point I agree with Hammerstein: »Holbein, on the other hand, played no role for it at all«.(2)

A more obvious source is Der Doten Dantz mit Figuren, which contains priest and gambler. The Child in Count Zimmern's book of transience is very similar to The child in Füssen.

Oberstdorf

The dance ends with the painter himself — both in Füssen and Oberstdorf.
Hiebeler, Painter

The dance in Füssen has itself inspired a new generation of dances of death — either with text or image.

One of these was in Oberstdorf in the so-called Vierzehn-Nothelfer-Kapelle. The chapel was also called Hexenkapelle, because there was a witch in the dance. The chapel is from 1638 and the dance of death from 1640. The text was a copy of the one in Füssen but included one more person: the young man.

The text was first described in 1846 in »Kalender für katholische Christen«, but since the magazine had already published the text from Füssen the year before, they contented themselves with bringing the single dancer, namely the young man who was not in the Füssen dance. The author could inform his readers that three of the dancers had different titles than in Füssen, e.g.: the witch was called "das alte Weib" (the old woman).

Two years later, in 1848, the entire text was published by Johann Stützle, and this was fortunate, because in 1865 the dance perished in a fire,

The dance started with Pope, emperor, bishop, elector, princess and abbot — i.e. the same order as the dance in Füssen probably would have had, if the plates with bishop and elector had not been interchanged. The last dancer was the painter, like in Füssen, but in Oberstdorf he was named Gabriel Neckher: »Gabriel Neckher, Laß das Mahlen ston«.

To read the text: See the external links below.

About the transcription in this section

The text in the painting is very easy to read, but on the other hand it is difficult to know how many times it has been renovated.

The first to publish the text was Karl Vogt in 1837 (see external link). Compared to the text today, there are hundreds of small differences, where one must assume that most are simply due to Vogt using a more modern orthography. In addition, there are:

A particular twist is the word "nur" (i.e. only / just), which is often used in a way where one would have expected "nun" (i.e. now). E.g.: Death to the princess: »Nur sprengt hernach […]«.

This has presented a challenge for the many witnesses. For instance, Death says to the emperor: »komt her nur gschwendt« (just come here quickly), but Massmann has forgotten the "nur": »kompt her geschwend«. On the other hand, Massmann has changed an "auch" into "nun" in the previous line: »Eur reich vnd gwalt hat nun ein end«.

For the bishop "nun" is changed to "nur" by both Massmann and Dürrwaechter: »Nur kom ich auch ins todten land«

First line: "mir" or "nur" ?
Second line: "mir"
Mir / Nur?

For the physician, Vogt and Massmann changes "nur" to "nun": »Wer bschaut mir nun dass wasser mein«.

For the nobleman a "nun" is changed to "nur" by Dürrwaechter and Massmann: »Nur bin ich von dem todt gefeltt«.

For the gambler, Dürrwaechter changes "nun" into "nur": »Nur muess ich fortt auf diser weltt«

What causes me the most headache is the landlord. In this case everyone chooses to read the word as "nur", but personally I think it makes more sense with "mir": »Mit dem ich mir abrechnen muess«. For a comparison, the word "mir" appears in the next line as well: »Für zech gibt er mir todten buess« (picture to the right).

 

The tekst can be read in its entirety here – or together with the illustrations: the Pope.

Go forth
 

The dance starts with the Pope.

Further information

Links and Resources

Oberstdorf

The dance of death in Füssen

Füssen:
Hiebeler 1602: Füssen:
Pope
Hiebeler 1602: Pope
Emperor
Hiebeler 1602: Emperor
Prince
Hiebeler 1602: Prince
Bishop
Hiebeler 1602: Bishop
Princess
Hiebeler 1602: Princess
Physician
Hiebeler 1602: Physician
Merchant
Hiebeler 1602: Merchant
Landlord
Hiebeler 1602: Landlord
Usurer
Hiebeler 1602: Usurer
Peasant
Hiebeler 1602: Peasant
Abbot
Hiebeler 1602: Abbot
Nobleman
Hiebeler 1602: Nobleman
Noblewoman
Hiebeler 1602: Noblewoman
Devil
Hiebeler 1602: Devil
Priest
Hiebeler 1602: Priest
Bailif
Hiebeler 1602: Bailif
Witch
Hiebeler 1602: Witch
Witches
Hiebeler 1602: Witches
Witch
Hiebeler 1602: Witch
Gambler
Hiebeler 1602: Gambler
Maid
Hiebeler 1602: Maid
Child
Hiebeler 1602: Child
Painter
Hiebeler 1602: Painter

Footnotes: (1) (2)

The latter information is from Karin Riedl (Der Tod reicht allen die Hand - Totentänze des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit, footnote 190), who quotes Riedmiller from L' art macabre 5, 2004, pp. 163-167.

Reinhold Hammerstein: "Dagegen hat Holbein für ihn überhaupt keine Rolle gespielt".

(Tanz und Musik des Todes: die mittelalterlichen Totentänze und ihr Nachleben, 1980, page 220.)