Jean Trepperel and Nicole de la Barre

Title page, ca. 1515
Trepperel, Trepperel
Cardinal / Legate
Trepperel, Trepperel

Guy Marchant must have had great success with his books, judging by the number of people who started publishing their versions of La Danse Macabre. One of these was Jean Trepperel, who published La dance macabre des hommes in 1500, printed by Nicole de la Barre of Paris.

One clue to the text no longer being a direct copy of the mural in the cemetery of St. Innocents is that Trepperel includes the four cadaver musicians and some of the ten figures that Marchant himself had added to his 1486-edition, viz. legate (picture to the right), duke, schoolmaster, soldier, promotor and jailor. The fool (who was also among the 10 added by Marchant) does not appear, but his speech is used as an answer to the hermit.

Another thing showing that the publisher has copied Marchant is that right after the dance comes a ballad starting with: »Puis quainsi est que la mort est certaine«. Marchant's publication was a kind of anthology with many different poems, and there was nothing in his 1486-edition to alert Trepperel and other readers that La Danse Macabre had finished, and that a new text had begun.

Incidentally, Trepperel was far from the only one to make this error. When Louis-Catherine Silvestre republished the text in 1858, he (naturally) included all these ballads, and when Le Roux de Lincy & Tisserand copied the mens' dance of death from Silvestre, they mistakenly included this ballad as part of the dance (page 316).

The introduction is the same picture as "the three dead".
Trepperel, Trepperel
The dance is finished by authority and dead king
Trepperel, Trepperel

The woodcuts are not copies of Marchant's book but of another publisher, Antoine Vèrard. This is not obvious at first,(1) since the copies are quite coarse. In Vérard's (and Marchant's) books the dancing couples appear two by two under an arcade, but owing to the narrow format of the book there's only one couple per page — with neither arcades nor columns.

This presented a technical problem, for Vérard had included only those 30 men, who appeared on the original mural in the cemetery of St. Innocents, and who Marchant included in first edition from 1485. As a consequence woodcuts were lacking for the ten dancers who had been added in 1486. This problem has been solved, partly by reusing the woodcuts — the picture to the top right of the cardinal is also used for the legate, — and partly by leaving out some of these new characters.

When we examine the 1515-edition, published by the widow of Trepperel (see external link), we find the following reuse: Cardinal and legate (picture at the top right); duke and constable; knight and nobleman with falcon; canon and bailiff; citizen and merchant; jailor and sergeant; promotor and lawyer; there's also a triplicate: the physician, schoolmaster and astrologer.

When it comes to the authority, who introduces the dance, the publishers of the 1515-edition have chosen to reuse the image of the hermit and the three dead. Rather unusually the words are attribured to Death, »La mort« (picture to the left). In contrast, the 1500-edition and the editions of Geneva and Lyon reused the woodcut with the dead king and the authority (picture to the right).

La Dance macabre, 1500 and 1820

Reprint from 1820
Nicole de la Barre, Bentley
2.Sign. a.ij. Cut of l'acteur, with the foregoing extract, after which is the speech of the Deaths. Reverse. The same continued; no cut.
3.a. iij. Cut of le Pape. Rev. Cut of l'empereur.
4.Cut of le Cardinal. Rev. Cut of le Roy.
5.Cut of le legat, (same as the Cardinal.) Rev. Le Duc.
6.Le Patriarche. Rev. Le Connestable.
7.Sign. B. L'archeuesque. Rev. le Cheualier (same as le Duc.)
8.Sign. B ij. Leuesque. Rev. Lescuyer.
9.B iij. Labbe. Rev. le bailiff.
10.Lastrologien. Rev. le bourgoys.
11.Le chanoyne. Rev. le marchant (same as le bourgoys.
12.Le maistre descolle (same as lastrologien.) Rev. lhomme d'armes (same as le connestable.)
13.Sign. C 1. le chartreux. Rev. le sergent.
14.C ij. le moyne. Rev. lusurier.
15.C iij. le medecin (same as lastrologien.) Rev. l'amoureux.
16.Laduocat. Rev. le menestrier.
17.Le curé. Rev. le laboureur.
18.Le promoteur. (Same as laduocat.) Rev. le geollier (same as le sergent.)
19.Sign. D 1. Le Cordelier. Rev. l'enfant.
20.D ij. Le clerc. Rev. lhermite.
21.Facsimile in pen-and-ink. Le roy mort (same as l'acteur.) Rev. Continuation of le roy mort; no cut.

The British Museum has a copy of the abovementioned book from 1500, which in 1820 was reprinted in London by Samuel and Richard Bentley. The print run was very modest: 25 copies on paper and 6 on vellum — and only eight of the woodcuts were reproduced.

The picture to the right shows the end of the dance: »Cy fine la dance macabre avecques les dictz des troys mortz et des troys vifz. Imprimee a Paris par maistre Nicole de la barre demourant en la rue de la harpe devant lescu de France. Lan mil.v.cens. le xxiii jour de Juillet« - "Here ends the dance of death with the legends of the three dead and the three living. Printed in Paris by master Nicholas de la Barre residing in Rue de la Harpe at (the sign of) the arms of France. Year 1500, 23 July.

After the 8 woodcuts Bentley analyzes the book (table to the left). The first thing we may note is that this book follows the sequence in Guy Marchant's books slavishly, as opposed to the 1515-edition, which we've just examined, and opposed to the copies in Geneva and Lyon.

The table shows how some of the woodcuts were reused to illustrate two or three dancers, and it wasn't always the same woodcuts that were reused in the 1500- and 1515-editions. Two woodcuts that apparently aren't to be found in any of the Parisian editions, but can be found in the Geneva- and Lyon-editions are the physician with his urine glass and the canon with his furcoat.

Douce mentions Nicole le Barre's book:

18. "La grant Danse Macabre, &c. Paris, Nicole de la Barre, 1523," 4to. with very indifferent cuts, and the omission of some of the characters in preceding editions. This has been privately reprinted, 1820, by Mr. Dobree, from a copy in the British Museum.
(Francis Douce, The dance of death exhibited, 1833, page 59)

According to Douce the copy in British Museum was reprinted by "Mr. Dobree". The book he refers to is presumably "Thoughts on death, sickness, and the loss of friends" by Samuel Dobree, but this book only contains two of the woodcuts.

Douce calls the original woodcuts »very indifferent cuts«, but at the end of his book are a number of "Additions and corrections", where the woodcuts are referred to as »very different cuts«:

P. 59. After No. 17 add "La Danse Macabre." Paris, Nicole de la Barre, 1523, 4to. with very different cuts, and some characters omitted in former editions.
(Francis Douce, The dance of death exhibited, 1833, page 246)

In later reprints of Douce's book these additions were incorporated in the text, so the readers can learn that in 1523 la Barre published a Danse Macabre "with very indifferent cuts" and also in 1523 a Danse Macabre "with very different cuts".

The year 1523 is a bit confusing too, since the book copied by both Bentley and Dobree is from 1500,(2) but apparently it should be understood to mean that Douce himself owned a copy from 1523. Douce's friend, Dibdin, tells us that Douce had such a copy.(3)

Louis Médard, 1834

Copy of the front page from 1820
Nicole de la Barre, Médard

I would like to direct the attention to a small folder by the bibliophile Louis Médard (1768-1841): la dance macabre.

Pages 6 and 7 are copies of Simon Vostre's marginals, however they are not copied from a book of hours, but from this encyclopedia: Musée des familles : lectures du soir. Pages 8 and 9 are a letter from the dance of death expert Achille Jubinal, 1841.

The last pages are taken from the English book from 1820. Page 10 is the front page (see the picture to the right). Page 11 is a French translation of pages 17-18, where the individual dancers are described (see the table above on this page). Page 12 is a French translation of page 19 including the handwritten comment(!), which states that the footnote is a quote from the introduction to Bewick's copies of Holbein, 1789: »Preface to Emblems of Mortality. Printed for T. Hodgson 1789«.

One might wonder how Médard could translate the same handwritten comment that we can read in Google Books' exemplar. Does this mean that Médard has copied the exemplar on Google Books? Or do all copies contain the same handwritten comment? The latter is not unthinkable, since the print run was only a meagre 25.(4)

Odds and Ends

Alleged original printing block
Barre block
Author / authority
Nicole de La Barre, Mer des croniques

The picture to the left shows a woodblock that allegedly was used for the cardinal / legate.

The picture to the right is interesting. It appears in a book La Mer des croniques, which Barre published in 1518. Contemporary books often had a woodcut of an author / authority in front of his writing desk, but the presence of an angel holding a scroll with Latin text indicates that this particular woodcut originally was meant to represent the authority in La Danse Macabre. In fact it looks like a laterally inversed copy of the final authority by Vérard.

On the other hand one must say that this authority was executed by a more skilled craftsman than the person who produced the woodcuts for Barre's / Trepperel's dance of death.


Almost identical woodcuts were used for publications in Geneva and Lyon.

and Lyon

Resources and Links

Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4)

At least I hadn't noticed, until I read the article by Patrick Layet in the book "Ihr müsst alle nach meiner Pfeife tanzen" pp. 27-33.
1500 . . .: We have already seen that Bentley reproduces the text »Lan mil.v.cens«.

Dobree writes in the beginning: »The two cuts in this volume are copied from "La Da[n]ce Macabre," printed at Paris, in the year 1500, by Nicholas de la Barre. It is in small quarto, and is preserved in the British Museum«.

»Mr Douce observes that there was an edition of this work by Nicole de la Barre, in 1523, 4to: with similar but comparatively indifferent cuts; omitting some of those in the present impression. This book was obtained by Mr. Douce from the late Count Macarthy in exchange for another volume«.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin, The Bibliographical Decameron, 1817, page 89.

This was suggested to me by Mischa von Perger.

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