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.
Emile Mâle was certain that Simon Vostre's marginals from 1512 (i.e. Accidens de l'Homme) was inspired by a book known as 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. 15001, 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.
Le Mors de la Pomme is from 1468 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:
Let's take one single page: In the left column are the child and its mother; to the right are the peasant and the sower. Every verse is followed by a fifth line in Latin, which is usually a quote from the Bible.
Au laboureur n'a nul repos
Se par moy n'est, point n'en ara
Car il a tous jours en propos
De luy pener tant qu'il porra.
Exibit homo ad opus suum. (Psalm 104:23)
Homs qui vuelt vivre seurement
gaigne son pain à labourer
Qui oyseuse sieut longuement
sans pechiez ne puet demourer.
Labores manuum tuarum quia manducabis beatus es (Psalm 128:2)
But now we will look at a source that has supplied the images: The ravishing wolves.
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.