Manuscript Français 14989

Ms Fr. 14989. The stamp from the time of the revolution shows that the book arrived at the National Library between 1792 and 1802.
Français 14989

The book starts with 2 + 4 lines of Latin text, of which the last four are spoken by a doctor: »Doctor loquitur« (picture to the right).

The two first (French) verses have the heading "Le docteur"; the astrologer is called "Lastrologien"; and the usurer's client is "Lomme qui emprunte" - the man who borrows.

The printed books all show how an angel holds the text-scroll.
(This example is by Antoine Vérard)
Antoine Vérard, Dead king and authority

Towards the end comes the dead king, who is thus described: "Le roy mort que vers mignent" - the dead king whom worms burrow. In fact he comes in too early so the verse has been crossed out again and is repeated a little later. The authority is called "Machabre docteur", and the headline of his second verse is "Le docteur encor".

After the dance itself comes 14 line more of Latin text, and the headline states that they are spoken by an angel and the doctor together: »angelus et doctor loquntur«. Just like the scene is featured in all of the printed books (example to the left).

The Provenance of the Book

In contrast to many of the other manuscripts that are anthologies with hundreds of pages, this is a rather small booklet. After La Danse Macabre there are only 6 more pages with different contents.

Hanno Wijsman (see external link) argues that the manuscript once was a part of a greater work, which has now been split into three parts:

A fifth verse has been squeezed into the right side after the hermit.
(This example is by Antoine Vérard)
Antoine Vérard, Clerk and hermit
  1. The first part was a rhymed chronicle from the Flanders: "Petite Chronique de Flandre, en vers (1244-1409)". This part is today cataloged as Ms. Fr. 14416 (earlier as Ancien Supplément Français 5195), and the chronicle ends: »Mil quatre cens et huit, c'est vérité prouvée«.

  2. The second part is the Danse Macabre-book that we are studying here. The stamp on the book (picture at the top right) is from the time of the revolution and shows that the book has arrived at the National Library between 1792 and 1802. There is the same stamp on the rhymed chronicle.

    Earlier it used be cataloged as "Supplément Français 632, 24", which shows that it was among to 29 books that were transferred from the Library of Burgundy in Brussels as "Number 632".

  3. The third and last part was "La Division des Orleanois contre les Anglois", which are satirical verses written after the death of the count of Salisbury in 1428. Wijsman has now identified this part as Besançon ms. 592.

The first part cannot have been written before 1409, when the chronicle ends, and the third part cannot have been written before 1428, when the count died. On the other hand, the book cannot be younger than 1467, because at this time it appeared in a catalog of books that had belonged to Philippe le Bon.

Wijsman briefly considers whether this Danse Macabre-text might be from before 1424, i.e. older than the mural at St. Innocens' cemetery. Maybe this was the very book that was employed by the painter to create the mural?

One of the reasons for his rejecting this hypothesis is that there are corrections within the text. As mentioned, the verse with the dead king was crossed out again. The scribe had evidently forgotten that in the scene with the hermit (picture to the right) there are three cadavers and therefore an ekstra, fifth, verse has been squeezed into the right side of the picture. Wijsman takes this mistake as proof that the book is a copy of the mural instead of the other way around, and he sets the date to "1428 or shortly after".

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