Marcus Reinhart may have been the first person to adorn the borders of a printed book with a dance of death — a few years before Simon Vostre. Reinhart's "Horae" is from 1490.
There is no year on the first and last pages of the book, and apart from the picture of a winged lion with the initials MR (picture to the right) there is no hint of the publisher. A few other books are known from the same publisher, but these are rare and just as silent when it comes to information, and often the pertinent pages are missing. The few versions that do offer a little information, claim they are printed in the unknown town "little Troya" or "Troyga".
Thus it has taken a lot of detective work to figure out where, when and by whom this book was printed.
What follows is a historical overview:
1840: In Literatur der Totentänze pages 117-118 Massmann describes a book of hours in the Hofbibliothek of Münich. This is the copy that has been reproduced on the present page. Massmann estimates the year to be 1490, presumably based on the almanac.
Massmann then goes on to describe a German book of hours from 1491 that was for sale in Vienna. This book was printed 1491 in "Cleinen Troya": »Getruck zu cleinen troya da man zalte von der geburt cristi. 18.104.22.168.«.
Massmann perfunctorily assumes that "little Troya" is the French city of Troyes. He does not realize that the contents of the two books he has just described are similar.
1853: Weigels art catalogue describes yet another copy of the German book from 1491 (no. 19429 in the catalogue). The book is »gedruckt zu Deinen troya«, and a note written in a later hand explains that "Troya" is a small area close to Prague in Bohemia.
Among the contents of the book are »Todtentanzscenen (aber unbekannte)«.
1854: in Serapeum no. 13 on page 194, P. Gottfried Reichart mentions two books that are older than all other known publications from "Troyga". The one is »Der cursz, und ampt der heiligen iungfrewen und mutter gottes marie« from 1491, the other is »De syben zyt unser lieben Frowen mit den syben ziten […] ihesu christi« from 1494.
1855: in Serapeum no. 16, Wiechmann-Kadow explains in the article »Ueber die zu Klein-Troya gedruckten Incunablen«, how the two books described by Reichart are in reality the one and same exemplar. This copy was defective so Reichart's two sources had each described one end of the book. The year 1494 was a typo.
Wiechmann-Kadow himself owned the last few leaves of a book printed »czu clein Troyga in dem jor 1495«, and he speculated whether it had been printed by Anton Sorg of Augsburg.
1864: Georg Kaspar Nagler in his book about monograms, »Die Monogrammisten und diejenigen bekannten und unbekannten Künstler«, identifies the letters MR as "Marc Reinhart" (number 2087). As an example Nagler mentions precisely this book, »Horae nostri domini«, with an almanac starting at 1490.
1866-1867: An anonymous author in »Kirchenschmuck, Ein Archiv für kirchliche Kunstschöpfungen« writes an article in three parts about a copy of »Horae nostri domini« that resides in Rottenburg. Because of the foolishness of a principal in the National Library, the book had nearly perished, even though, due to its age and its content, it highly deserves the attention of book friends.
The first part of the article has the headline: »Ein Gebetbuch mit Typen- und Holzschnitt-Druch aus dem Jahre 1489«. There is no explanation for this year, and the next two parts have a less precise headline: »Ein illustrirtes Gebetbuch aus dem 15. Jahrhundert«.
The third and last part is dedicated to dances of death, and there are plenty of quotes from Basel. The author seems to be familiar with German dances of death, but he does not connect this dance with the dance at St. Innocents of Paris. In fact he thinks that the marginals show both monks and nuns.
At the end of the article the author has found the monogram "MR" in Nagler's book. For some reason he reads the name as "Mark Reichart". Maybe this misreading was caused by reading the above article by Gottfried Reichart? At any rate he explains 10 lines later that the winged lion of Mark (the Evangelist) is a play on the name Markus Reinhart.
According to Nagler, Reinhart had lived in Lyon between 1477 and 1498, but the anonymous author from Kirchenschmuck believes (as it turns out: correctly) based on the saints appearing in the calendar that the book was published close to Strasbourg.
1895: Max Spirgatis locates Klein-Troya on the basis of some books from 1497. The little Troy turns out to be the city of Kirchheim, a little town in Alsace that nobody had known housed any printeries: »Kirchheim im Elsass, eine bisher unbekannte Druckstätte des 15. Jahrhunderts«.
1898: »An index to the early printed books in the British Museum«. Under the headline »Marcus Reinhard?«, Robert Proctor mentions (page 211) two books of hours from 1490 respectively 1491.
1905: »Bibliographical essays«. Robert Proctor expands his short contribution from 1898 with the article: »Marcus Reinhard and Johann Grüninger«.
Proctor employs two copies in The British Museum. The one is a German book of hours (picture above to the right) that lacks the first page. This other is a Latin "Horae" that appears to be older. Proctor therefore estimates it to be from 1490.
1913: Otto Clemen reprints a Latin "Horae" by Reinhart. Unfortunately this version, which is owned by the Erfurter Stadtbibliothek, is without a dance of death.
Proctor gives us a short biography of Reinhart and his brother: Markus Reinhart hailed from Strasbourg, but in 1477 he and his partner opened Lyon's second printery, which functioned until their cooperation ended in 1482. The year after that, 1483, Reinhart's more famous brother, Johann Grüninger, started a workshop in Strasbourg, and judging from the types employed by this printery, Markus has been helping his brother.
Around 1490 he opened his own printery in Kirchheim, but in 1495 at the latest it had been overtaken by a successor, while the woodcuts and types appear in books published by Johann in Strasbourg. It is not known what had happened to Reinhart. Was he dead, or had he returned to Johann bringing his materials along?
Around 1495-1496 Johann Grüninger published a Latin book of hours with many of the same woodcuts. The dance of death had been replaced by a copy with white background instead of black.
The conclusion of all this is that the book we are about to examine was printed in Kirchheim in 1490, or possibly shortly before that in Strasbourg, before Reinhart moved.
The office of the dead opens with a big picture of the three living and the three dead. Then come the 30 dancers, in the proper sequence, except that the 6th woodcut has been moved behind the 8th. Then the woodcuts are used again, but in a rather random manner. The column with pope, emperor and cardinal is only used once more, while the column with archbishop, knight and bishop is used six times.
As can be seen on the picture to the left, the dance starts with a picture of the original sin, Eve and the subtil serpent. Reinhart must be praised for this original invention, because when he published his "Horae" there would still be 48 years before Hans Holbein's woodcuts were published, which also started with the fall of man and the expulsion from Paradise.
Then follow two dead persons playing music. Reinhart has probably found his inspiration in the printed versions of Danse Macabre that start with four corpses striking up the music. The funny part about the Danse Macabre is that nobody is playing any music in the dance itself, and likewise there hasn't been any music in the margins we have seen so far. Once again Reinhart is 48 years ahead of Holbein's music.
At the bottom is an ossuary full of skulls. Once again Reinhart precedes Holbein, who also has an ossuary in the beginning. But neither Reinhart nor Holbein can claim originality, because the dance of death in Basel, which is from about 1440, also started with an ossuary.
The dance ends with Judgment Day, resurrection, and Heaven and Hell (picture to the right). Once again Reinhart was far ahead of Holbein, who also ended his dance with Judgment Day.
In the middle — between the Original Sin and Judgment Day — the men are dancing: Ten columns with three person in each. It takes some time to figure out that we are dealing with the same 30 persons that we know from Simon Vostre, because the pictures are small, clumsy, badly scanned and appear in a jumbled sequence.
It helps with the identification process, when one realizes that Reinhart hasn't simply copied Simon Vostre (and besides his book is older than Vostre's). Reinhart is in fact much closer to Guy Marchant's printed Danse Macabre than the other publishers are.
Take the minstrel. At first he is hard to recognize because he hasn't got a flute in his hand. But his attribute is the lute that lies on the ground behind him in all the versions. Reinhart and Marchant agree in having the minstrel place his hand on his chest, stretch out the other, and pull away from Death.
Other examples are the nobleman, who doesn't have a hunting falcon, and the knight and the citizen, who both are standing with their arms crossed.
Here's the citizen:
The above tables show several things: First of all that Reinhart copies his figures pretty closely from Marchant. Secondly that Death's posture varies greatly between all versions, and thirdly that Simon Vostre copies Antoine Vérard closely (unless it's the other way).
Let's leave the Continent and move on to English prayers.