Marginal thinking: The ravening wolves

The author receives his visions in his bed.

So far we have looked at three versions of the same series of images. But a similar series also appears in a very special book.

After having described the other series in detail, Francis Douce remarks (page 63) that the same motives are employed in another work, »The same designs have also been adopted, and in a very singular style of engraving, in a work printed by Antony Verard, that will be noticed elsewhere«.

And as promised, Douce returns to this other book on page 146:

I. "Les loups ravissans fait et composé par maistre Robert Gobin prestre, maistre es ars licencie en decret, doyen de crestienté de Laigny sur Marne au dyocese de Paris, advocat en court d'eglise. Imprimé pour Anthoine Verard a Paris, 4to." without date, but about 1500.

This is a very bitter satire, in the form of a dream, against the clergy in general, but more particularly against Popes John XXII. and Boniface VIII. A wolf, in a lecture to his children, instructs them in every kind of vice and wickedness, but is opposed, and his doctrines refuted, by an allegorical personage called Holy Doctrine.

In a second vision Death appears to the author, accompanied by Fate, War, Famine, and Mortality. All classes of society are formed into a Dance, as the author chooses to call it, and the work is accompanied with twenty-one very singular engravings on wood, executed in a style perhaps nowhere else to be met with. The designs are the same as those in the second Dance of the Horæ, printed by Higman for Vostre, No. I. page 61.

(Francis Douce: The Dance of Death Exhibited in Elegant Engravings on Wood, page 146)

The book is named Les loups ravissans (i.e. "The ravening wolves") from the story in the first half. The author (see the title page to the left) is sitting in his bed. He has just received a dream / revelation about how the arch-wolf (archilupus) is spreading his message to his wolf-disciples, while "Saincte doctrine" — the saintly doctrine — preaches to her sheep.

What is more interesting — in a dance of death context — is the second half of the book. The author ends the wolf story by announcing that he has had an even more terrible vision about how Death and "someone named Accident" were leading a dance, and the participants were those people, who in their life had followed the bad doctrine of the false Archilupus, that is the devil: »vision trop plus horible & merueilleuse que ceste […] que la mort & vng nomme accident qui […] menoient vne dance en laquelle estoient dancans plusieurs gens qui en leur vie […] auoient ensuyui la doctrine & instruction mauuaise du faulx loup archilupus / cest du dyable«.

This second vision doesn't have a title, but the main character is called "Accident", and towards the end, the author hints that this was also the title: He has written a book of Accident and of wolves: »J'ay d'accident & des loups fait ce livre«.

The tale is illustrated with some very animated woodcuts. Douce writes: »executed in a style perhaps nowhere else to be met with«, and Douce is right, for when wrote this in 1833, it would still take another century for this expressionistic style to come into fashion.

As Douce had observed, these series are much reminiscent of each other.

Accidens de l'Homme
Vie de l'Homme
Loups rauissans
"Je suis la mort" × 6

The picture above represents Death and nobody can doubt this because the text says, »Je suis la mort« six times in the first verse alone (picture to the right):

JE suis la mort grande debellaresse(1)
De dieu permise menant guerre aux humains
Je suis la mort sur toutes vainqueresse
Tant sur les hommes que sur monstres inhumains
Je suis la mort qui na parens naffins
Je suis la mort qui a sur tous pouoir
Je suis la mort qui na cure davoir
Or ne argent comme les usuriers
Je suis la mort qui ne craint le pouoir
De tout le monde de roys ne chevaliers.
(Les loups rauissans)

But Death immediately passes the word on to the real protagonist, Accident, and it is Accident who appears in the background behind Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel. You really have know this to see it, because Accident is portrayed as a skinny corpse, just like Death, except that Accident often sports an outrageous hair-do.

It doesn't take long before Accident introduces his three auxiliaries: Mortality, War and Famine. Or as he calls them: His three chambermaids: »mes trois chamberieres«.

Las Horas / Accidens de l'Homme
Vie de l'Homme
Les loups rauissans
Accident admires the work of the executioner.

Again we see how the illustrations in Les Loups are far closer to those of Hardouyn's (La Vie de l'Homme), than those of Vostre/Higman's (Accidens de l'Homme). The latter two share a more narrow format, which has necessitated placing Death/Accident behind his three helpers, but in Accidens de l'Homme, Famine has become a richly dressed woman with some sort of feather brush in her hand. This is how Douce interpreted the image: »A soldier introducing a woman to another man, who holds a scythe in his hand. Death stands behind«.

Accident's three chambermaids take over some of the action, and this can be confusing since they look like the same corpse as Death and Accident. However, one can recognize Mortality by her scythe, while Famine carries a withered sheaf of corn. War is dressed in full armour. Later on, a fourth personified plague is introduced: Maladie

The Scenes

There are 24 scenes, although scene 17 is the same as number 13, namely the scene that follows here. Again we see how Hardouyn (Vie de l'Homme) is very close to Les Loups.

Las Horas / Accidens de l'Homme
Vie de l'Homme
Les loups rauissans
Vie de l'Homme: A fallen woman.
Hardouyn, Woman

Leber describes the 23 woodcuts in detail, and so does Mary Beth Winn in the article "Gathering the Borders in Hardouyn's Hours" (see the separate section about Loups Ravissans for external links). The scenes are the same that we find in Vie de l'Homme.

Vie de l'Homme: The hermit
Hardouyn, Hermit

The conclusion is that Les Loups has the same images as "Vie de l'Homme" and "Accidens de l'Homme", and that Les Loups is probably more original, since the pictures make sense in this context.

Furthermore all these publications serve as precursors to Holbein's famous dances of death by breaking the traditional chain-dances, that we know from the Danse Macabre in Paris and the marginals of Simon Vostre, into separate scenes, and in introducing the dance with the Fall of man, and finishing it with Judgment Day.

But if Les loups ravissans is the source of the pictures, we still need a source for the text. Enter the dance of blind Death.

Go forth

The next chapter is about The dance of blind Death.

The previous subject was The apple of Death.

Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

debellaresse . . .: vanquisher, conqueror.

In French, la Mort is feminine and "debellaresse" is the female form of "debeleur".

This particular example was taken from Croniques de France, 1493.

In the original French it went: »pour Anthoine verard libraire demourant a paris a limage saint Jehan leuageliste sur le pont nostre dame«.

On the present site we also know Antoine Vérard as a publisher of several editions of La Danse Macabre.