Marginal thinking: 15. The ravishing wolves

The author receives his visions in his bed.

So far vi 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, 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 rauissans" (i.e. "The ravishing wolves"). It has no date, but is thought to be from around 1505.

The book has its title 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 (which incidentally wasn't included in the reprint of 1525): Death speaks to the reader and his 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.

Las Horas
Las Horas
Accidens de l'Homme
Vie de l'Homme
Loups rauissans
"Je suis la morte" × 6

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

JE suis la mort grande debellaresse
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 his comrade-in-arms, 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 (the plague), War and Famine.

Las Horas / Accidens de l'Homme
Vie de l'Homme
Les loups rauissans

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 friends 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.

The book is, as Douce states, without date, but the author declares that he had his vision 1st January 1505: »ce premier jour de janvier mil cinq cens et cinq«. There are also several allusions to contemporary events. Accident boasts how he once made the bridge of the Notre Dame tumble down into the water:

Je suis Accident qui jadis
En l'eau si feiz trébucher
Le pont Nostre Dame pas dix
n'y a qu'on tenoit si cher,
La ou je feis fort empêcher
Ungs et aultres en les tuant,
Et les aultres aucuns en les noyant
Pour les apprendre a dancer.
Homme qui ne veult forvoyant
Aller, doit a sa fin penser.

Death admires the work of the executioner.

The bridge did in fact tumble into the water along with 60 houses. This happened in 1499, and if this was less than 10 years ago (»pas dix Ans«), the book must be from before 1509.

On a sidenote, the publisher Antoine Vérard was painfully aware of this incident. His own business had been located on this bridge until it fell down. The colophone of books published by him before 1499 would typically sound like this: »for Antoine Vérard bookseller staying in Paris at the image of St John the Evangelist on the Bridge of Our Lady«.(1)

Another example is the scene at the gallows. Accident speaks again:

Il vous souviengne comme maistre Olivier
Le Dain
je fis estrangler d'un fort chevestre
Qui du roy Loys unziesme fut barbier
Et Montfaulcon fit son cymetiere estre:
Du Connestable aussi qui fut grant maistre
Vous souviengne lequel lis décoller
Dedans Paris en grève : plus parler
De ce ne vueil , mais je vous admoneste
Que se faictes le peuple ainsi fouller
La main mettray sur vostre col ou teste.

The entry on Wikipedia confirms that Olivier le Daimmaistre Olivier Le Dain«) was "favourite of Louis XI of France", who appointed him court barber, (»du roy Loys unziesme fut barbier«), but that he died at the gallows of Montfaucon in 1484 (»je fis estrangler d'un fort chevestre« / "I strangled him with a strong bridle"), so you could say that Montfaucon became his cemetery, (»Et Montfaulcon fit son cymetiere«).

The Scenes

According to Douce, there are 21 of these wodcuts, but that is not correct. In the book "Essai historique, philosophique et pittoresque sur les danses des morts" there is a long letter/thesis by M. C. Leber, where each scene is described. There are 24 "tableaus", 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". The 23 woodcuts do not come in the same sequence in those two editions, but the scenes are the same that we find in Vie de l'Homme.

Vie de l'Homme: The hermit
Hardouyn, Hermit

A funny exception is scene no. 22, which Leber describes as follows: »Un Homme d'église, en tiers avec deux prostituées, est renversé d'un coup de lance que lui porte Accident«. That is: A man of the church together with two prostitutes is being overthrown by a lance carried by Accident. Winn, on the other hand describes it: »Death spears prone woman, 2 women kneel behind«.

I haven't seen this woodcut, but the one in Vie de l'Homme (picture to the left) clearly shows a woman, and not a "man of the church". I'll leave it to Leber and Winn to sort out whether the skeletal figure with the lance is Death or Accident,

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.

External links

Footnotes: (1)

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.

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