Lübeck's Dance of Death

Make Your Own Dance of Death

Summary: The book, Dodendantz, is very jumbled. By repeating the steps that the printer went through years ago, we might discover why.

The format of Dodendantz is called quarto. This means that the printer folds the sheet twice in order to get 4 leaves or 8 pages as shown by the diagram below:

One side of the sheet The other side of the sheet

One side of the sheet

Sounds easy, right?

We'll start with one side of the sheet and use the pictures from the dance of death from 1489, namely the hermit, the canon, Death with scythe, Death on the lion and Death with spade.

  1. Remember to number the pages, so that the bookbinder can put them in the right order. This is sheet number 2, so we'll write a B.
  2. Unfortunately we only have 3 pictures of Death, since the picture of Death with arrow seems to have disappeared between 1489 and 1520. No problem, we'll fill the vacant space with the three little skulls from the title page.
  3. We don't have a picture of the official because he didn't appear in the 1489-edition, so we'll content ourselves with the text alone.
  4. The parish priest didn't appear in 1489 either, so that's one more picture we're missing. We'll just show a stock illustration of Jesus on the cross instead.

The other side of the sheet When this side of the sheet has been printed, we'll turn it over. The other side is even easier. Put down the next two dancers: physician and abbot — each with "his" Death. There's only one problem:

  1. We still need the fourth picture of Death, but this time we'll skip Death entirely and add three dancers: monk, knight and crusader. These three dancers and their dialogue will fill up two pages.

All that's left is to fold the sheet and cut it open:

Fold and cut

When you open up the pages it'll look like this:

Dodendantz Dodendantz Dodendantz Dodendantz Dodendantz

Oops! Something went wrong: Death appears on the right of all the page openings. This means that our readers will have to read Death's lines to the right first and then the humans reply to the left.

Well, sheets happen, as we printers say. Maybe this is why Dodendantz was the last book to appear from the Mohnkopf printery and the wood blocks were sold to young Hans Vingaard, who brought them along to Copenhagen.

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