La danse macabre des femmes, 1491

Four musicians
Musicians

Guy Marchant had printed the women's dance already in 1486 in Miroer Salutaire, but in 1491 he published a more finished and thoroughly illustrated edition. Just like Miroer Salutaire, the 1491-edition was printed in several parts. The first part had the same contents as Miroer Salutaire and it ended with the colophon: »Cy finit la danse macabre historiee et augmentee de plusieurs nouueaulx personnaiges et beaux dis. tant en latin que en francoys nouuellement ainsi composee et imprimee par guyot marchant demourant a paris ou grant hostel du college de nauarre en champ gaillart. Lan de grace mil quatre cens quatre vingz et dix. le xx iour de ianuier«. Thus the dance of the men was printed 20th January 1490 and since the French calendar at that time started in March, the year would be 1491 according to our calendar.

The second part contains the women's dance, three ballads and a woodcut of Death on a pale horse riding out of the Hell-mouth. The sections ends: »Lan de grace mil quatre cens quatre vingz et vnze Le second iour de may«, i.e. 2nd May 1491. The third part contains the legend of the three living and three dead and other texts from Miroer Salutaire such as "the discussion between the body and the soul" and "the lament of the damned soul". Third and last part ends: »Lan mil quatre cens quatre vingz et vnze le derrinier iour de Auril«. This last part was then printed on "the last day of April 1491" and thus slightly older than the second part.

The library in Rouen has a copy of the first part, the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris has the two last parts.

The Dance of the Women

The Authority
Guy Marchand, Authority

What was new about this publication was in particular the women's dance. Like all of the other texts it was not created by Guy Marchant himself. We know the dance from a handful of manuscripts, one of which is from 1482, while another manuscript claims that the author was named Martial d'Auvergne.

The dance of the women follows the same structure as that of the men: First an introduction by an authority, then a series of dialogues, where each verse has 8 lines, and the eighth line usually is an aphorism. Towards the end one more authority gets the final word and finishes off the story with a moral.

In contrast to the men's dance, which for all we know appeared fully formed with its 30 dancing couples, the women's dance has evolved more organically. The oldest manuscript from 1482 has only 30 dancing couples and the spinster maid appears very early in the dance. In the two next manuscripts the danse has been expanded by an old woman (who replaces the former old woman, who from now on is called the woman with crutches) and a witch.

When in 1486 Guy Marchant published the printed version, Miroer Salutaire, he "harmonized" the text so it was more in line with the men's dance. The authority at the beginning got two verses instead of a single one, and Marchant added four musicians. The dance was expanded with abbess and prioress, which Marchant might have composed himself. Finally Marchant added the dead queen as a counterpart to the dead king.

Regent and knight's wife
Guy Marchand, Ruler and Knight's wife
Bigot woman and fool
Guy Marchand, Bigot woman and fool

However, there was a copious amount of recycling: The authority, the four musicians and the dead queen were allotted the same woodcuts as in the men's dance. Only one single woodcut was produced for Miroer Salutaire, viz.: the queen and duchess.

In the 1491-edition, Marchant had produced woodcuts for all the dancing couples and added two more women: bigot woman and fool. There was also made special woodcuts for the four musicians and the authority, namely those two images that can be seen at the top of this page. However, the image of the dead queen was still the same one as the dead king.

The woodcuts were made by Pierre Le Rouge, the same man, who had produced the wooduts for the men's dance (and for Marchant's competitor, Vérard). At any rate it is obvious that they are not nearly of the same quality and it is also assumed that Pierre has been busy with other works and has delegated the task to his son, Guillaume, and nephew, Nicolas.

Personally I think that there are at least two different hands: One (to the left), where the figures are ugly and jagged, but dynamic, and another (to the right), where they are more rounded and cartoony, but static. All of the cadavers (including the four musicians) have long flowing hair, to show that this is the dance of the women.

Authority
Guy Marchand 1499: Authority
Musicians
Guy Marchand 1499: Musicians
Queen and Duchess
Guy Marchand 1486: Queen and Duchess
Ruler and Knight's wife
Guy Marchand 1491: Ruler and Knight's wife
Abbess and noblewoman
Guy Marchand 1491: Abbess and noblewoman
Prioress and young woman
Guy Marchand 1491: Prioress and young woman
Citizeness and widow
Guy Marchand 1491: Citizeness and widow
Merchant's wife and bailiff's wife
Guy Marchand 1491: Merchant's wife and bailiff's wife
Bride and darling wife
Guy Marchand 1491: Bride and darling wife
Virgin and theologianess
Guy Marchand 1491: Virgin and theologianess
Newly-wed and pregnant woman
Guy Marchand 1491: Newly-wed and pregnant woman
Chambermaid and housekeeper
Guy Marchand 1491: Chambermaid and housekeeper
Spinster and Franciscan Nun
Guy Marchand 1491: Spinster and Franciscan Nun
Hospitable woman and wetnurse
Guy Marchand 1491: Hospitable woman and wetnurse
Shepherdess and crutches
Guy Marchand 1491: Shepherdess and crutches
Peasant woman and old woman
Guy Marchand 1491: Peasant woman and old woman
Resales woman and suitoress
Guy Marchand 1491: Resales woman and suitoress
Midwife and young girl
Guy Marchand 1491: Midwife and young girl
Nun and witch
Guy Marchand 1491: Nun and witch
Bigot woman and fool
Guy Marchand 1491: Bigot woman and fool
Authority and dead queen
Guy Marchand 1499: Authority and dead queen

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Further Information


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