Marginal thinking: Douce Ms. 135

Douce: Death and the pope
Douce 135, Douce
Douce: Death and the child.
Douce 135, Douce

The book of hours to the left and right once belonged to Francis Douce. He described it himself in his book, the year before he died:

2. An exquisitely beautiful volume, in large 8vo. bound in brass and velvet. It is a Latin Hor, elegantly written in Roman type at the beginning of the 16th century. It has a profusion of paintings, every page being decorated with a variety of subjects. These consist of stories from scripture, sports, games, trades, grotesques, &c. &c.


The side margins have the following Danse Macabre, consisting as usual of two figures only. Papa, Imperator, Cardinalis, Rex, Archiepiscopus, Comestabilis, Patriarcha, Eques auratus, Episcopus, Scutarius, Abbas, Prepositus, Astrologus, Mercator, Cordiger, Satelles, Usurarius, Advocatus, Mimus, Infans, Heremita.


(Douce: The dance of death exhibited in elegant engravings on wood, 1833, pages 72-74)

The dead king
Douce 135, Dead king

There are 21 participants and they are all among the staple characters from la Danse Macabre.

In contrast to the two previous manuscripts, where Death was standing behind his victim, the dancing couples are situated on each side of the page opening: Death stands on all the left pages looking right. while the humans appear on all the right pages looking left.

At the end of the dance comes the dead king (picture to the right).

The titles are in Latin and it would be tempting to assume that the artist had copied them from Guy Marchant's 1490-version, Chorea ab Eximio, but this is not the case, for six of the titles (out of the 21) are different. In contrast they fit perfectly with the Latin books of hours published by Thielman Kerver. For instance the knight is called "Eques auratus", which doesn't fit with Chorea ab Eximio calling him "miles", but is identical to Kerver's knight.

But apart from the dance itself, lots of things are going on in the little scenes at the bottom of the pages. Douce himself described 15 of them — here are his remarks:

Douce 135, Mirror
Douce 135, Arrow

The margins at bottom contain a great variety of emblems of mortality. Among these are the following:

1. A man presents a mirror to a lady, in which her face is reflected as a death's head.

2. Death shoots an arrow at a man and woman.

Douce 135, Escape
Douce 135, Spear

3. A man endeavouring to escape from Death is caught by him.

4. Death transfixes a prostrate warrior with a spear.

Douce 135, Scythe and spade
Douce 135, Drum

5. Two very grotesque Deaths, the one with a scythe, the other with a spade.

6. A group of five Deaths, four dancing a round, the other drumming.

Douce 135, Bull
Douce 135, Cemetery

7. Death on a bull, holding a dart in his hand.

8. Death in a cemetery running away with a coffin and pick-axe.

Douce 135, Grave
Douce 135, Fool

9. Death digging a grave for two shrouded bodies on the ground.

10. Death seizing a fool.

Douce 135, Master of a family
Douce 135, Caillette

11. Death seizing the master of a family.

12. Death seizing Caillette, a celebrated fool mentioned by Rabelais, Des Periers, &c. He is represented in the French translation of the Ship of Fools.

Douce 135, Beggar
Douce 135, Players

13. Death seizing a beggar.

14. Death seizing a man playing at tennis.

Douce 135, Miller
Douce 135, Ragot

15. Death striking the miller going to his mill.

16. Death seizing Ragot, a famous beggar in the reign of Louis XII. He is mentioned by Rabelais.

There are more than these 15 scenes, and in the middle of the row there's a series of scenes from the life of Job and another about Abraham.

Douce proudly ends his description: This precious volume is in the present writer's possession. Today the book is part of the collection that bears his name, and the book is named Douce 135, proving that you don't truly own anything until you have given it away.

The next manuscript is one with the full sequence of men and women: Upenn 1945-65-13.

G fremad

The next chapter in this series is about a manuscript with both men and women.

The previous chapter was about Beinecke MS 411.

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