Marginal thinking: 11. Las Horas, 1495

So far we have been looking at Simon Vostre's dance of death with variations. A dance that ultimately goes back to the Danse macabre in Paris.

Douce describes (page 61, ff.) a Spanish book of hours "Las Horas de nuestra Señora con muchos otros oficios y oraçiones", printed in Paris by Nicolas Higman for Simon Vostre, 1495, which also contains these 66 dancers that we by now have learned to know and to love.

But after that follows another very different series, also by Vostre. In the table below, the left column is Douce' description of the first 24 images, while the right column contains transcriptions and translations by Mischa von Perger.

DouceTranscription, translation and comments by Mischa von Perger

Nicolas Higman, Death
1. Death sitting on a coffin in a church-yard.

Nicolas Higman, Adam & Eve
2. Death with Adam and Eve in Paradise. He draws Adam towards him.

Nos. 1 & 2, an elegiac distich:

Discite vos choream cuncti, qui cernitis istam.
quantum prosit honor glorie (recte: gloria) diuitie.

Do learn, all you who watch this dance,
of how much advantage is honour, fame, and wealth!

The plural form "gloriae" ("fames") in the second verse is awkward and disturbs the metre. Therefore, we have to replace it by the singular form, "gloria", as it appears in the source.

Source: Jean Gerson (?), La Danse macabre (written in 1424 or slightly earlier), verses 1 sq.; cf. the extended edition by Guyot Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.

Nicolas Higman, Cain & Abel
3. Death helping Cain to slay Abel.

Nicolas Higman, Cardinal
4. Death holding by the garment a cardinal, followed by several persons.

Nos. 3 & 4, an elegiac distich:

Esto memor. quod puluis eris: et vermibus esca.
In gelida putrens quando iacebis humo.

Be aware (singular imperative) that you will be dust and a meal for the worms
when you will lie rotting in the cold ground!

Source: Alanus ab Insulis / Alain de Lille (died 1202/03 A. D.), Liber parabolarum, book 1, chapter 6, verses 101 sq. (Alain has "putris" instead of "putrens"); cf. Marchant, The authority and the dead king.

Nicolas Higman, Bull
5. Death mounted on a bull strikes three persons with his dart.

Nicolas Higman, Usurer
6. Death seizing a man sitting at a table with a purse in his hand, and accompanied by two other persons.
Nos. 5 & 6, an elegiac distich:

vado mori diues aurum vel copia rerum
nullum respectum dat michi: vado mori.

I am going to die, a rich man. Gold or plentiness of things
is not giving me any respect. I am going to die.

Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, Monk and usurer.

Connection between text and image: The verses of pictures 5 & 6 are uttered by the rich man — picture 6 shows him.

Nicolas Higman, Unarmed
7. An armed knight killing an unarmed man, Death assisting.

No. 7, a prose line:

Fortium virorum est magis mortem contemnere <quam> vitam odisse.

Brave men should despise death, not hate life.

In order to make the saying grammatically correct, we have to add the word "quam", as it appears in the source.

Source: Quintus Curtius Rufus (presumably first century A. D.), Historiae Alexandri Magni Macedonis, book 5, chapter 9. Cf. Marchant's Death and the man of arms (Lomme darmes / armiger): In the Latin edition, the word "quam" was omitted; however, it correctly appears in the French edition.

Connection between text and image: As in Marchant's editions, the quotation accompanies an armed man. However, it does not fit well Vostre's armed man, who does not appear to be a brave heart but a murderer.

Nicolas Higman, Rod
8. Death with a rod in his hand, standing upon a groupe of dead persons.

No. 8, a prose line:

Stultum est ti<m>ere quod vitari non potest.

It is stupid to fear what cannot be avoided.

Above the "i" of the third word should have been printed a horizontal line to indicate the following nasal, "m".

As the previous subscription, this one also appears above the scene "Death and the man of arms (Lomme darmes / armiger)" in Marchant's Danse macabre nouvelle.

Nicolas Higman, Scythe
9. Death with a scythe, having mowed down several persons lying on the ground.
No. 9, a hexameter:

est commune mori mors nulli parcit honori

To die is common. Death does not spare any state of honour.

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.

Nicolas Higman, Soldiers
10. A soldier introducing a woman to another man, who holds a scythe in his hand. Death stands behind.
No. 10, a hexameter (the first half of a distich) with internal rhyme:

Mors fera mors nequam mors nulli parcit et equam
<dat cunctis legem, miscens cum paupere regem>.

Death is wild, death is bad, death spares nobody and <imposes> an equal
<law upon all, mixing the king with the poor man>.

The sentence as printed ends abruptly. So the reader has to supply the continuation.

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.

Nicolas Higman, Woman
11. Death strikes with his dart a prostrate female, who is attended by two others.

Nicolas Higman, Tower
12. A man falling from a tower into the water. Death strikes him at the same time with his dart.

Nos. 11 & 12, a distich made of two hexameters with double rhyme:

Hec tua vita breuis, que te delectat vbique (recte: inique).
Est velut aura leuis te mors expectat vbique.

This your short life, that pleases you everywhere (recte: more than it should),
is like a light breeze. Death is waiting for you everywhere.

The last word of the first line, "ubique", is awkward. According to Marchant's Danse macabre edition, we have to replace it by "inique".

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Monk and usurer.

Nicolas Higman, Strangling
13. A man strangling another, Death assisting.

Nicolas Higman, Gallow
14. A man at the gallows, Death standing by.
Nos. 13 & 14, a distich made of two hexameters with double rhyme:

Vita quid est hominis nisi res val<l>ata ruinis.
est caro nostra cinis: modo principium. modo finis.

What is human life, if not a thing set between ruins?
Our flesh is ashes, now the beginning, now the end.

In the print, the second "l" of the word "vallata" is missing.

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.

Nicolas Higman, Beheading
15. A man about to be beheaded, Death assisting.

Nicolas Higman, King
16. A king attended by several persons is struck by Death with his dart.
Nos. 15 & 16, an elegiac distich:

quid sublime genus quid opes quid gloria prestant.
que mihi nunc (recte: tunc) aderant hec michi nunc abeunt.

What do a noble birth, wealth, and fame bestow on us?
The things that now (recte: back then) were with me are now leaving me.

In the second verse the past tense of "aderant" requires us to read the preceding word as "tunc" ("back then") instead of "nunc". Marchant has the correct version.

Cf. Marchant, The pope and the emperor in the Latin versions.

And cf. the inscription on the scroll held by the figure of Jean de Berry (died 1416 A. D.) on his grave monument in Bourges:

Quid sublime genus quid opes quid gloria prestent
prospice mox aderant hec michi nunc abeunt:

Look which gifts a noble birth, wealth, and fame bestow on us!
They were once with me, now they are leaving me.

Connection between text and image: The verses of pictures 15 & 16 are uttered by a person of high birth, wealth, and fame — picture 16 shows such a man.

Nicolas Higman, Battle-axe
17. Two soldiers armed with battle-axes. Death pierces one of them with his dart.

Nicolas Higman, Bed
18. Death strikes with his dart a woman lying in bed.

Nos. 17 & 18, an elegiac distich:

Ortus cuncta suos: repetunt: matremque requirunt.
Et redit in nihilum quod fuit ante nichil

All things strive to find their origins again and seek their mother,
and that becomes nothing which has before been nothing.

Source: Maximianus (sixth century A. D.), elegy 1, verses 221 sq.; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, halberdier and fool.

Nicolas Higman, Child
19. Death aims his dart at a sleeping child in a cradle, two other figures attending.

No. 19, a hexameter:

A. a. a. vado mori. <quia> nil valet ipsa iuuentus.

A a a, I am going to die, <because> youth is of no worth.

In order to restore the original metre, we have to add the word "quia" to the beginning of the second phrase, as it appears in Marchant's version:

Vado mori iuuenis: quia nil valet ipsa iuuentus.

I am going to die, a young one — because youth is of no worth.

Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The child — In the Vulgate Bible, Jeremiah, not willing to serve as God's prophet, pretends to be just a child by saying in Latin: "A, a, a - look, Lord, my God, I cannot talk" (Jer 1:6). Jeremiah 1:6, et dixi a a a Domine Deus ecce nescio loqui quia puer ego sum.

Connection between text and image: The verse of picture 19 is uttered by the child — the picture shows the child.

Nicolas Higman, Fallen
20. A man on the ground in a fit, Death seizes him. Others attending.

No. 20, a pentameter:

Mors scita sed dubia <est>. nec fugienda venit.

Death <is> known but dubious and, when coming, cannot be fled from.

In order to restore the original metre, we have to add the word "est" to the first phrase. However, the corrupt version was also printed by Marchant.

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre des femmes, The authority.

Nicolas Higman, Crowd
21. Death leads a man, followed by others.

No. 21, a hexameter with internal rhyme:

Non sum securus hodie vel cras moriturus.

I am not secure — today or tomorrow I shall die.

Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.

Nicolas Higman, Meal
22. Death interrupts a man and woman at their meal.

No. 22, a hexameter with internal rhyme:

Intus siue foris est plurima causa timoris

Inside or outside — there is very much reason for fear.

Connection between text and image: The verse of woodcut 22 considers indoor and outdoor death — woodcut 21 depicts outdoor death, woodcut 22 indoor death.

This and the previous verse were also printed one after the other by Marchant; cf. La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.

Nicolas Higman, Minstrel
23. Death demolishes a group of minstrels, from one of whom he has taken a lute.

No. 23, a verse with internal rhyme:

Viximus gaudentes nunc morimur tristes et flentes.

We have lived merrily — now we die sad and crying.

This is the only verse that has no classical metre — and does not appear in Marchant's Danse macabre editions.

Nicolas Higman, Hermit
24. Death leads a hermit, followed by other persons.

No. 24, a pentameter:

Forte dies hec est vltima vado mori.

Perhaps this is my last day. I am going to die.

Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Astrologer and citizen.

Nicolas Higman, Judgement Day
25. Jesus at Judgment day. The dead are rising from their graves.

Nicolas Higman, Authority
26. Authority figure explains the morale of the play.
Nos. 25 & 26, an elegiac distich:

Felix qui potuit tranquillam ducere vitam.
Et letos stabili: claudere fine dies

Happy is he who was able to lead a calm life
and to close his cheerful days by a stable end.

In the second verse, the words "stabili … fine", "by a stable end", are awkward. We have to look for the correct version in the source.

Source: Maximianus (as in nos. 17 & 18), elegy 1, verses 289 sq.:

Felix qui meruit tranquillam ducere vitam
et laeto stabiles claudere fine dies.

Happy is he who has gained to lead a calm life
and to close his stable days by a cheerful end.

The corrupt version was also printed by Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Lawyer and minstrel.

It seems to have escaped Douce that pictures 25 and 26 are just as much a part of the series as the 24 others. Therefore I have included them with a short description. Langlois too includes them, but his exemplar must in turn have lacked picture 23 and 24 (minstrel and hermit), for Langlois says that Douce has these two instead of the last two.(1)

The author / authority who introduces and closes the Danse Macabre in Paris
Cimetière des Innocents

Picture 25 finishes the dance with Judgment Day (like for instance Holbein did a few years later), and picture 26 is "the author / authority", who delivers the final morale, like he often does, e.g.: the Danse Macabre of Paris (picture to the left).

The above table shows another thing that pictures 25 and 26 have in common with the others pictures: The texts are quotes from the printed versions of the Danse Macabre in Paris by Guy Marchant. This holds true for all the pictures with a single exception (#23).

Accidens de l'Homme
Accidens de lHomme, Death

Take for instance pictures 1 and 2: »Discite vos choream cuncti qui cernitis istam« and »Quid tum prosit honor glorie divitie«, and compare with the two first lines from the first picture in the Danse Macabre (picture to the left). In fact this particular quote also appears in the even older handwritten versions of Danse Macabre, so the text might for all we know go back to the original mural from 1425.

As a matter of fact, and this is shown by Mischa von Perger in the above table, many of the quotes are even older than Guy Marchant's books and are thus not penned by Marchant himself. The point still remains: Nicolas Higman and Simon Vostre have found 25 out of 26 texts in this one source, the printed Parisian Danse Macabre. In some cases (pictures 7,20,25,26) they have even copied errors that originate from Marchant's book.

This leads to another point: There is no connection between text and images. Admittedly, the texts were not picked totally at random — as the above table shows, there is sometimes a parallel between text and image, but this is no stronger than the Bible quotes that accompany Hans Holbein's dance of death.

It's clear then (in my opinion) that Higman and Vostre have taken an existing series of images and added these Latin bon mots from Marchant's book. Read more about the Latin texts from La Danse Macabre.

Next
page

Let us now look at another version, in which there is a far more coherent text, namely Accidens de l'Homme.

External link

Death
Nicolas Higman 1495: Death
Adam & Eve
Nicolas Higman 1495: Adam & Eve
Cain & Abel
Nicolas Higman 1495: Cain & Abel
Cardinal
Nicolas Higman 1495: Cardinal
Bull
Nicolas Higman 1495: Bull
Usurer
Nicolas Higman 1495: Usurer
Unarmed
Nicolas Higman 1495: Unarmed
Rod
Nicolas Higman 1495: Rod
Scythe
Nicolas Higman 1495: Scythe
Soldiers
Nicolas Higman 1495: Soldiers
Woman
Nicolas Higman 1495: Woman
Tower
Nicolas Higman 1495: Tower
Strangling
Nicolas Higman 1495: Strangling
Gallow
Nicolas Higman 1495: Gallow
Beheading
Nicolas Higman 1495: Beheading
King
Nicolas Higman 1495: King
Battle-axe
Nicolas Higman 1495: Battle-axe
Bed
Nicolas Higman 1495: Bed
Child
Nicolas Higman 1495: Child
Fallen
Nicolas Higman 1495: Fallen
Crowd
Nicolas Higman 1495: Crowd
Meal
Nicolas Higman 1495: Meal
Minstrel
Nicolas Higman 1495: Minstrel
Hermit
Nicolas Higman 1495: Hermit
Judgement Day
Nicolas Higman 1495: Judgement Day
Authority
Nicolas Higman 1495: Authority

Footnotes: (1)

Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois, Essai [...] sur les danses des morts, volume 2, page 29:

A la place de ces deux derniers sujets, M. Douce décrit les deux suivants:

La Mort met en fuite un groupe de musiciens de l'un desquels elle a saisi le luth.

La Mort conduit un ermite suivi par quelques autres personnages.


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