Nicole de la Barre, 1500

Cardinal / Legate

Guy Marchant had great success with his books as evidenced by the number of people who started publishing their versions of La Danse Macabre. The picture to the right is from a book published in 1500 by Trepperel, printed by Nicole de la Barre of Paris.

The woodcuts are not copies of Marchant's book but of another publisher, Vèrard. This is not obvious at first,(1) for the copies are quite coarse. In Vérard's (and Marchant's) books the dancing couples appear two by two under an arcade, but because of the format of the book there's only one couple per page — with arcade and columns.

Author / authority
Nicole de La Barre, Mer des croniques

This presented a technical problem, for Vérard only included those 30 men, who appeared on the original mural in the cemetery of St. Innocents, and who Marchant included in first edition from 1485. This means that 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 right of the cardinal is also used for the legate, — and partly by leaving out some of these new characters.

Original printing block
Barre block

The picture to the right shows the woodblock that originally was used for the cardinal / legate.

Unfortunately the book is hard to get hands on today, but some very close copies were published in Geneva and Lyon.

The picture to the left 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 better executed by a more skilled craftsman than the person who produced the cardinal / legate to the right. And furthermore this woodcut doesn't look like the copy that Belot published in Geneva and Lyon.

La Dance macabre, 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 copies in Geneva and Lyon.

According to the table the physician is the same woodcut as the astrologer and the school master. This is odd because the Lyon and Geneva books both have a splendid woodcut of the physician with his urine glass. In the same way it states that the knight and duke are the same, even though both of the Lyon and Geneva books have a knight as well as a duke. The knight was in fact reused in the 1537-edition in Lyon to illustrate the nobleman, "Lescuyer", but we know this is not the case here, because the nobleman with his hunting falcon is among the eight woodcuts reproduced by Bentley.

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)


and Lyon

The books by Barre/Trepperel are unfortunately not available, but woodcuts and text were copied very closely for publications in Geneva and Lyon.

External links

Further information

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

At least I hadn't noticed, until I read it in Ihr müsst alle nach meiner Pfeife tanzen.

It's from the same article that I got the woodcut of the cardinal.

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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