The author is unknown, but
due to peculiarities of the language (see example here) it is assumed that the text
is based on a Middle Dutch model.
The number of dancers and certain lines show that the text - like most other dances of death -
ultimately goes back to the dance of death in Cimetière des Innocents in Paris.
After a couple of centuries with repairs and maintenance it finally became necessary, in 1701,
to replace the painting. The paiting was copied very carefully -
but at the same time some deliberate changes were introduced, which we'll examine on the page about
the painter Anton Wortmann.
The old painting disappeared but fortunately the preacher (and future vicar) of the church
wrote down as much of the old Low German text as he could read. He has, however, messed up his notes a bit
and this will be dealt with in the page about Jacob von Melle.
A new text replaced the old one. The author, Nathanael Schlott didn't bother
to look at what remained of the original medieval text but wrote a new one instead,
which was more in accord with the fashion of that time.
The stained glass windows today.
By 1942 it was over: Lübeck was bombarded and the painting was destroyed -
together with a large part of the city.
What remained was a number of photos, drawings, lithographs, descriptions and texts inspired by
the painting. The purpose of this site is to present those sources to make it possible
to imagine what the original painting and the chapel looked like.
Between 1952 and 1956 Alfred Mahlau created a new kind of dance of death
in the same chapel - consisting of two large stained-glass windows. This time it wasn't the medieval plagues
but rather the world wars that inspired the work.
Originally the entire site was dedicated to the dance in Lübeck, and
with 156 pages (and 186 in the Danish version) this painting is still a heavyweight. To make this great amount of
material accessible I have tried to organize it into 5 groups and a few "odd ends":
The first group is about the old tekst from 1463.
To illustrate this text, I use black-and-white photographs taken between the two world-wars.
Obviously these photos show the copy created by Wortmann in 1701, but there's nothing to do about that.
There are no reproductions of the original painting from 1463.
The original painting is normally attributed to Bernd Notke,
so he gets his own little section.
Click to see picture and text.
Then comes the new text from 1701,
illustrated with copper engravings by Suhl from 1783.
The posteriority has not been kind to Wortmanns "cloying" painting
and Schlotts "boring" text.
Nevertheless there's nothing that indicate that the painting's fame should have vaned during the
last 241 year.
The German text is accompanied by a loose English translation published by
Thomas Nugent in 1768.
The Danish version of this section instead contains a translation from 1738 entitled
»Den Lybekske Dødning-dantz«.
Books. In 1489 a book was printed in Lübeck named Des Dodes Dantz with
the text and the many woodcuts being loosely based on the painting in St. Mary's Church.
Later, in 1520, came a shorter version named Des Dodes Dantz.
These books and the woodblocks were sold and
brought to Copenhagen, and around 1550
a Danish version of these two books was published with the same woodcuts.
The only existing exemplar of Copenhagen's Dance of Death
is in a bad condition, and several pages are missing.
Fortunately there's a later edition named Dødedantz,
which doesn't have any pictures, but contains the same text.
Thus, by combining the text from Dødedantz and the woodcuts from the Lubeckian books
it is possible to complete Copenhagen's Dance of Death.
For unknown reasons, Dødedantz has been unknown for centuries
so it is on these pages that the restored Copenhagen's Dance of Death.
gets its first re-premiere in
Der Totentanz der Marienkirche in Lübeck...und der Nikolaikirche in Reval (Tallinn) — by Hartmut Freytag.
This is by far the best and most thorough book about the subject -
with more facts and less nonsense than any other book.
The book has nearly 500 pages and
contains everything you wanted to know about the dance of death in Lübeck and more.
The text from Lübeck and Tallinn is examined with annotations to almost every word. Articles
about the stained glass windows, Copenhagen's dance of death, the clothes, the language and much, much more.
There are very nice colour pictures of the dance of death in Tallinn but - strangely - not from Lübeck!
This painting is only reproduced as an 8-cm high concertina-style banner.
You would think, that when a book is published with nearly 500 pages about a single painting,
there would be room for a bigger picture!
Der Todtentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck.
This book measures 29 by 47 cm and is just as unhandy as the full title of the book:
"Der Todtentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck. Nach einer Zeichnung von C. J.
Milde, mit erläuterndem Text von Professor W. Mantels.
Neudruck der Ausgabe Lübeck: Rahtgens 1866.
Mit einem Nachwort "Der Totentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck und das
Totentanz-Fragment in der Nikolaikirche zu Reval (Tallinn)"
hrsg. von Hartmut Freytag, Lübeck 1989. Zweite, vermehrte und verbesserte
Auflage 1993. Dritte, erneut vermehrte und verbesserte Auflage 1997."
This is a facsimile reprint of Wilhelm Mantels' book from 1866,
where he lays the ground for all later research.
It also contains the coloured version
of the handsome lithographs by C. J. Milde from 1852 (8 plates).
Mantels was a pioneer, and pioneers tend to become outdated.
On the other hand Mantels is still worth reading since he had access to the church records
and almost counts as a primary source.
Freytag has added a section with the newest (i.e.
Der Totentanz in der Marienkirche zu Lübeck.
Separate print from Der Wagen, 1951 - 8 pages + a concertina-style banner. It's amazing how much has
happened to the research since 1951: almost every "fact" in this pamphlet is wrong,
and no — Nathanael Schlott is not spelled Natanael Schott.
Das Revaler Totentanz-Fragment.
A concertina-style banner (73 * 17 cm) with a nice colour reproduction af the dance of death fragment in Tallinn. There's
a short text in Estonian and (High) German.
Dodendantz. German book by Timothy Sodmann from 2001. This is a facsimile print
of Dodendantz from 1520. The book also contains a transcript of the text,
a complete glossary (Low German - High German) and a 30-page postscript
about Lübeck's dances of death. Highly recommendable.
Den gamle danske dødedans.
Copenhagen's dance of death from 1550 reprinted in 1896
with introduction and annotations by Raphael Meyer. Available from the Internet Archive.
I have converted Meyer's introduction to HTML in the Danish version of this site.
Totentänze ....Die Deutschsprachigen Spätmittelalterlichen Totentänze unter besonderer
Berücksichtigung der Inkunabel, Des dodes dantz, Lübeck 1489 by Brigitte Schulte.
Schulte compares the structure of 14 dances of death (13 of which are German). The last
part of the book is a thorough and sound comparison of the text in Lübeck/Tallinn with
Des dodes dantz and Dodendantz.
Death in art.
The very best site - in English and French.
Dances of death from all of Europe with pictures and text. Lots of pictures of The triumph of Death, The Three
Living and the Three Dead, Death and the Maiden etc. etc.
Patrick Pollefeys has a separate page about
A Norwegian site with a
chronology of the dance of Death.