Marginal thinking: Rothschild 2535

Left side of spread
Rothschild 2535
Right side of spread
Rothschild 2535

This manuscript is only a few years younger than La Danse Macabre, being from 1430-1440. The manuscript was produced in Paris and must have been inspired by the then fresh mural on the cemetery wall in St. Innocents, or as a minimum the two works must share a common (but unknown) source.

We know La Danse Macabre from a number of old manuscripts, but unfortunately none of these contain any illustrations. The exception is the BNF 995, which is relatively new and was copied after Guy Marchant's printed books, The present manuscript in contrast is considerably older than Marchant's books so maybe we have here a direct reproduction of the mural?

The dance takes place in the margins of a double-page spread and consists of 11 scenes.

Pope, emperor and cardinal
Rothschild
King
Konge

The dance starts at the bottom of the left leaf. Three Deaths drag the pope, emperor and cardinal away.

The first Death leading the procession together with the pope carries a coffin on his shoulder, just like in so many other dances, like for instance in Tallinn. In Guy Marchant's printed version of la Danse Macabre the coffin does in fact stand on the ground behind Death, but this may be because of space. In Vérard's version Death carries the coffin on his shoulder, just like the picture to the left.

The emperor has the German double eagle on his cape to the left (click the picture to enlarge it) like he has in la Danse Macabre.

The cardinal is as always dressed in red clothes and with a red hat.

The king is placed above the cardinal (picture to the right). He is decorated with fleur-de-lys, like he is in la Danse Macabre. This means that in both dances the emperor is German, while the king is French.

Bishop
Bishop
Knight
Knight

The individual dancing couples have been placed on little "islands" in the margins, and the sequence is not very logical.

The knight's insign is a "chevron" (a sharp angle) with six "merlettes" (birds). This escutcheon is unknown.

Nobleman
Nobleman
Physician
Physician

The nobleman is together with his wife when they are arrested by Death. There are no women in La Danse Macabre, but maybe the noblewoman is a duplicate of her husband, like for instance the empress in Lübeck is a duplicate of the emperor?

Strictly speaking, we do not know who the well-dressed couple are since the sequence is jumbled. Maybe the person is instead the suitor from la Danse Macabre? In that case his girlfriend would be his attribute, in the same way the poor man is the usurer's attribute, and the pupil is the teacher's.

The dance of death in St. Paul's Cathedral in London is only a few years younger than the mural at St. Innocents cemetery. In the English version 3-4 women have been added, and the suitor who is called »the amerous Squyere« is accompanied by the Gentilwoman amerous.

The physician (to the right) holds his bottle with urine up against the light, as he does in all dances of death — including la Danse Macabre.

Peasant and child
Rothschild
Pick-axe
Pick-axe

The peasant/worker has the same shovel over his shoulder as in la Danse Macabre.

The child in the cradle reaches out for Death, just like in la Danse Macabre.

Hermit
Hermit

In many dances of death, the infant — being the weakest person in society — is the last participant. This is for instance the case in Lübeck where the hermit and the peasant come before the child, who ends the dance.

This might also be the case here — at least the peasant and the child are placed at the top of the page and thus opposite the pope, who started the dance at the bottom of the page.

In contrast, la Danse Macabre ends with a hermit, who is allowed to round of the dance with a pious morale. Both the hermit to the left and the hermit in la Danse Macabre are pictured with rosary and prayer book.

The next manuscript is almost as old, and it probably has more participants than any other dance of death: Morgan 359.

Go forth
 

The next chapter in about Morgan 359

The previous subject was The Office of the Dead.

External links