Marginal thinking: 14. The apple of death

On this page and the two following pages we will look at some possible sources of Accidens de l'Homme and La Vie de l'Homme.

Fig 211. La Mort des Heures de Simon Vostre (1512).
Le Maire
Fig 212. La Mort des Heures de Simon Vostre (1512).
Le Maire

Emile Mâle was certain that Simon Vostre's marginals from 1512 (i.e. Accidens de l'Homme) was inspired by a book known as Le Mors de la Pomme.(1) In his book about Christian art he wrote:

The illustrated manuscripts of Mors de la pomme have certainly inspired the artist who designed the borders for the book of hours of 1512 for the editor Simon Vostre. It is the same concept of a dance macabre, and it is often the same episodes. Death, with her arrow appears when Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden; later she [Death] witnesses the murder of Cain, she attacks a man-of-arms in the middle of the battle (fig. 211), the girl in her room; she takes the child in the cradle despite the cries of his little brothers (fig. 212). The theme once given could be varied infinitely, so Simon Vostre's designer did not feel obliged to slavishly copy the model. He invented more than one episode: Death makes the mason fall from his scaffolding, she lies in ambush in the woods with the robber and helps him murder the victim, but she is also at Montfaucon near the gallows, when the executioner lifts the murderer up the ladder.

(L'art religieux de la fin du moyen âge en France, af Emile Mâle, page 379(2))

Mâle accompanied his article with the two figures from Accidens de l'Homme that I display to the left and right, and there is the little twist, that they are not the originals, but very good copies. You can see this because there are three per column instead of two, and there is no text. The copies were executed by Léon le Maire, whom we shall return to later.

Kurtz too agreed. But instead of the 1512-version (i.e. Accidens de l'Homme) he compared Le Mors de la Pomme to the 1495 edition:

A Livre d'Heures of special importance was printed in 1495 in Spanish by Nic. Higman for Simon Vostre with the title Las Horas de nuestra Senora con muchos otros oficios y oraciones. Imprimé a Paris par Nic. Higman pour Sim. Vostre 1495. It contains an ordinary Danse Macabre of sixty-six subjects and, in addition, another Dance of Death called Les accidents de l'homme.

There were twenty-four woodcuts to the latter, following the plan later adopted by Holbein, that is groups in which Death takes a member of society. They must have been imitated from the miniatures found in the manuscript B.N. fr. 17001, Le Mors de la Pome, which was composed about 1470. They are, however, not a copy but entirely original in arrangement. Only the idea of Death taking man in the midst of daily activities and in the company of his associates has been borrowed. Holbein must have known one of these originals.

(The Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit in European Literature, af Leonard P. Kurtz, page 56)

Both Mâle and Kurtz point out how Accidens de l'Homme and La Vie de l'Homme anticipate Holbein's famous dance of death by leaving the old concept of a chain-dance. Instead they let Death seek out his victims everywhere in his and her daily life.

Kurtz says there were 24 images, so he probably follows Douce in neglecting the two last images: The authority and Judgment Day. Thus he misses the point that Accidens de l'Homme and La Vie de l'Homme have also paved the road for Holbein in another respect: They start with the fall of man and end with Judgment Day.

But apart from this, both authors agree that neither Accidens de l'Homme nor La Vie de l'Homme are the first. The idea goes back to Le Mors de la Pomme. And Kurtz must have known what he was talking about, for he himself published an edited version of Le Mors de la Pomme.

The fall of man. Death appears at the very moment God's command is broken.
Mors de la Pomme, Pomme
Doctor and fool
Mors de la Pomme, Pomme

Le Mors de la Pomme is from 1461 and thus a bit older than Accidens de l'Homme, La Vie de l'Homme and Holbein. All four works have in common that they start with the Fall of man (picture to the left), that Death seeks out people in their daily life armed with a gigantic dart (picture to the right), and that they end with Judgment Day. This indicates that Le Mors de la Pomme, as Mâle and Kurtz agree, is an obvious inspiration for the idea and structure of Accidens de l'Homme and La Vie de l'Homme (and later on, Holbein).

Kurtz describes the images on pages 40-41:

  1. Adam and Eve driven from heaven.
  2. The eating of the apple and the appearance of "Death" because of it.
  3. Death is given an hour glass, scroll and three arrows by an angel, God being present.
  4. Adam, Eve and Death.
  5. Two angels and Death.
  6. Death, alone, with his new power (scroll).
  7. Death kills Abel with a javelin, Cain being present.
  8. Death kills a girl carrying water, a woman present.
  9. Death claims another victim.
  10. The ark scene, Noah; Death kills a man.
  11. Knight and squire, Death and squire.
  12. Princess killed in an inn.
    Mors de la Pomme, Pomme
  13. Death kills a child, the mother and a cradle in the picture.
  14. Death kills a laborer with a sower present.
  15. Death kills a chaplain in a church.
  16. Death kills a girl with her maid present; the maid reflects on the necessity of death for all.
  17. Death, a woman and a clerk, the former killing with the javelin. An angel and a bat-winged devil hover in the air. The angel catches the soul, represented by a small child, as it takes flight from the dead victim.
  18. Soul in judgment before God, who gazes into a book. The devil is also present.
  19. Death with the pope, cardinal and others present.
  20. Death and the man at arms together with a battle scene.
  21. Death and a money-changer, a citizen present.
  22. A queen is killed, with the king present.
  23. Emperor is killed on his throne.
  24. Christ on the Cross.
  25. Death visits the doctor, a fool also present.
  26. Death kills a girl while her sweetheart plays a stringed instrument.
  27. -28 In the last two miniatures, there is a representation of hell.


However, Kurtz is not right when it comes to the sequence, because in the manuscript he has used, two of the leaves have been exchanged. For details, see the section about Le Mors de la Pomme.

Here we will instead look at a source that has supplied the images: The ravishing wolves.

Go forth

The next chapters is about The ravishing wolves..

The previous subject was La Vie de l'Homme.

Further information

External link

Footnotes: (1) (2)

The title of the book is a pun. The words "mors", meaning "bite", and "mort" sound alike. Death appears with the first bite of the apple.

My (and Google's) translation of this text:

Les manuscrits illustrés du Mors de la pomme ont certainement inspiré l'artiste qui composa, pour l'éditeur Simon Vostre, les bordures des Heures de 1512. C'est la même conception de la danse macabre, et ce sont souvent les mêmes épisodes. La Mort, avec sa flèche, apparaît au moment où Adam et Eve sont chassés de l'Eden; elle assiste au meurtre de Caïn ; plus loin, elle attaque l'homme d'armes au milieu de la bataille (fig. 211), la jeune fille dans sa chambre ; elle prend l'enfant au berceau malgré les cris de ses petits frères (fig. 212). Le thème une fois donné, les variations pouvaient être infinies; aussi le dessinateur de Simon Vostre ne s'est-il pas cru obligé de copier servilement son modèle. Il a inventé plus d'un épisode : la Mort fait tomber le maçon de son échafaudage, elle s'embusque dans les bois avec le brigand et l'aide à assassiner sa victime, mais elle est aussi à Montfaucon, près du gibet, quand le bourreau fait monter l'assassin à l'échelle.

See the external link.