Nicole de la Barre, 1500

Title page, 1500
Barre, Nicole de la Barre
Cardinal / Legate
Barre, Cardinal

Guy Marchant must have had great success with his books, judging by the number of publishers who started issuing their versions of La Danse Macabre.

We can see one of them to the left. The colophon at the back of the book says: »Cy fine la dance macabre auecques les dictz des troys mortz et des troys vifz. Imprimee a paris par Maistre Nicole de la barre demourant en la rue de la herpe deuant lescu de france. Lan mil. v. cens le xxiij. iour de Iuillet«. I.e.: "Here ends the dance of death with the sayings of the three dead and the three living. Printed in Paris by master Nicole de la Barre residing in Rue de la Harpe at (the sign of) the arms of France. Year 1500, 23 July.

The book ends with a whole-page picture of Jesus and the Day of Judgment followed by the large printer's mark of Jean Trepperel. The latter either shows that de la Barre has printed the book for Trepperel, or that Trepperel has paid some of the expenses.

One clue to the text no longer being a direct copy of the mural in the cemetery of St. Innocents is that de la Barre includes the four dead musicians and some of the ten figures that Marchant had added to his 1485/86-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« and the refrain: »Pour bien mourir et vivre longuement«. Marchant's publication was a kind of anthology with many different poems, and there was nothing in his 1486-edition to alert Nicole de la Barre and other readers that La Danse Macabre had finished, and that a new text had begun.

Incidentally, de la Barre 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 dance is finished by authority and dead king
Barre, Authority

The woodcuts are not copies of Marchant's book but of another publisher, Antoine Vérard. 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.

The hermit and the three dead
Barre, The three dead

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 the 1485/86-edition.

This problem has been solved, partly by reusing the woodcuts, and partly by leaving out some of these new characters. For instance the picture to the top right of the cardinal is also used for the legate, and the authority, who introduces the dance is the same as the dead king and the authority (to the left). See the following table for details.

The dance is followed — as in many other books — by the legend of the three dead and the three living (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 owns the only existing copy of Nicole de la Barre's book, It was reprinted in 1820 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 (see external link).

The picture to the right shows the end of the dance: »Cy fine la dance macabre […] Lan mil.v.cens« - The eight woodcuts are very close copies, and the text is printed with a very similar type font.

After the 8 woodcuts, Bentley analyzes the book (table to the left).

The table shows how some of the woodcuts were reused to illustrate two or three dancers, Compared to the almost identical publications in Geneva and Lyon, woodcuts are lacking of the physician with his urine glass and the knight with sword.

Towards the end of the dance, two leaves (four pages) are lacking, and have been written and drawn in ink: »Facsimile in pen-and-ink«. This means that the fool's answer and the last authority are missing but have been replaced with a copy based on an unknown source.

Francis Douce and the 1523-edition.

Douce mentions Nicole de la Barre's book:

Fra La Mer des croniques published by de la Barre in 1518.

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.

Nicole de La Barre, Mer des croniques

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 (i.e. the exemplar that is the subject of this page) 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«:

Douce 1858: "Very different" and "very indifferent".
Douce 1858

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 into the text, so the readers can learn that in 1523, de la Barre has published both a Danse Macabre "with very different cuts" and one "with very indifferent cuts" (picture left).

The year 1523 is a bit confusing too, since the book copied by both Bentley and Dobree is from 1500.(2) The reason was apparently that Douce himself owned a copy from 1523. Douce's friend, Dibdin, describes af book published by Nicolas le Rouge of Troyes and finishes by telling us that Douce owned a book with »similar but comparatively indifferent cuts«:

It is now time to notice the edition of this work by Nicolas Le Rouge, in a thin folio volume, without date. The title is thus: "La grant danse macabre des hommes et des femmes hystoriee et augmentee de beaulx ditz en latin […]"

[big snip]

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, vol 1, page 89)

Unfortunately Maßmann missed the word "similar" and he confounded the two publishers, and asks himself in a footnote whether Nicol. de la Barre is the same as Nicol. le Rouge. Langlois tries to clear up the confusion created by the two gentlemen by pointing out that it was Bentley (not Dobree), who published the facsimile.(3)

However, it doesn't seem that anybody has seen this 1523-edition; neither with "very indifferent cuts", "comparatively indifferent cuts" nor with "very different cuts". Could it be that Douce has read the colophon a little too hastily, and understood the date as a year: »Lan mil. v. cens le xxiij. […]«?

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 Bentley's facsimile from 1820. Page 10 is the front page (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)

Almost identical woodcuts were used for publications in Geneva and Lyon and by Jean Trepperel's family.

and Lyon

Each woodcut is only shown once here, even if it was used for several different characters, with the exception of the duke.

Nicole de la Barre
Barre 1500: Nicole de la Barre
Barre 1500: Authority
Barre 1500: Musicians
Barre 1500: Pope
Barre 1500: Emperor
Barre 1500: Cardinal
Barre 1500: King
Barre 1500: Duke
Barre 1500: Patriarch
Barre 1500: Connétable
Barre 1500: Archbishop
Barre 1500: Knight
Barre 1500: Bishop
Barre 1500: Nobleman
Barre 1500: Abbot
Barre 1500: Bailiff
Barre 1500: Astrologer
Barre 1500: Citizen
Barre 1500: Canon
Barre 1500: Carthusian
Barre 1500: Sergeant
Barre 1500: Monk
Barre 1500: Usurer
Barre 1500: Suitor
Barre 1500: Lawyer
Barre 1500: Minstrel
Barre 1500: Priest
Barre 1500: Peasant
Barre 1500: Franciscan
Barre 1500: Child
Barre 1500: Clerk
Barre 1500: Hermit
The three dead
Barre 1500: The three dead
The three living
Barre 1500: The three living

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 colophon: »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«.

Maßmann . . .: Hans Ferdinand Maßmann, Literatur der Todtentänze, page 99.

Langlois . . .: Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois, Essai historique, philosophique et pittoresque sur les danses des morts, pp 334-335.

Nicole de la Barre, Bentley and Douce's 1523-edition is also mentioned by Brunet: »Manuel du libraire et de l'amateur de livres«, vol. 2, cols 493-494.

This was suggested to me by Mischa von Perger.