Jean Belot of Geneva, 1500

Geneva, 1500
Jean Belot, Belot

Guy Marchant had great success with his books as evidenced by the number of people who started publishing their own version of La Danse Macabre. The book to the left was published in 1500 by Jean Belot in Geneva, (»Imprimee a genesue. M. ccccc.«). however, it's not a copy of Marchant, but a copy of books by Trepperel and Nicole de la Barre, which in turn were copies of Antoine Vérard.

The front page is adorned (if that is the right word) by two of the cadaver musicians that Guy Marchant had added to his books in 1486.

The front page also functions as a sort of table of contents, showing that the book like many of the similar books consists of different texts. The book doesn't just contain "La dance Macabre", but also includes the story about the three dead and the three living (»Les troys mortz et les troys vifz«) and the 15 signs preceding Judgment Day: (»Et les quinze signes précédens le grant jugement«).

Below the picture is a text, only the first line of which remains: »Viuans qui voyes ceste dance«. This introduction is very reminiscent of the end of La Vie de l'Homme: »O vous humains qui voyez cette dance«. However, it's only this single line that is similar for we know from other versions of the book that the full verse goes: »Viuans qui voyez ceste dance / Se souvent la regardez / Vous scairez se bien la gardez / Qhoneur mondain nest pas cheuance«.

The duke
Jean Belot, Duke

The musicians from the front page are reused on the very next page, where they are accompanied by the text: »Ce nest que vent de la vie mondaine / Mondain plaisir dure peu longuement / Longue saison na pas mais tressoudaine / Soudain mourras et ne scays quellement«.

The dance of death itself contains more or less the same text as Guy Marchant's book. The four cadaver musicians and six of the ten figures that Marchant had added are also included but only one of them, namely the duke, gets an original woodcut. For the five others a woodcut of some other dancer is reused instead.

Even though the woodcuts ultimately go back to Vérard, it is not necessarily the same persons, who are allotted the same woodcuts. The duke to the right is a copy of Vérard's bailiff, while Belots' bailiff is a copy of Vérard's citizen, and Belots' citizen must share a woodcut with the merchant.

The sequence is not quite the same. For instance the suitor appears early and the bailiff very late. Normally the hermit is followed by a cadaver who gives answer: »Cest bien dit […]«, but in this book there is instead a single verse from the fool: »Or sont en la fin bons amys«.

The text ends with the dead king and the authority and then straightaway continues with a ballad with the refrain: »Pour bien mourir & vivre longuement«, without as much as a blank line to separate the two works.

Who copied whom?

Belot: cardinal / legate
Jean Belot, Cardinal
Trepperel: cardinal / legate
Trepperel, Trepperel

The woodcuts are almost identical to those that were published by Trepperel and La Barre in Paris. In the end both woodcut series are copies of Antoine Vérard.

But who has copied whom? The most tempting thought is of course, that Trepperel was the first. He worked in Paris and was close to the St. Innocents' Cemetery, close to Guy Marchand (from whom the text was copied) and close to Vérard (from whom the images were copied).

Layet writes in his article about Trepperel: »Die Holzschnitt-Serie von de la Barre bildet wiederum die Vorlage für die Genfer Ausgaben von Jean Belot und für diejenige, die wir hier beschreiben«.(1) I.e.: Trepperel's woodcuts were the model used by Belot of Geneva.

As self-evident as this thought may seem there are a few problems with this hypothesis:

  1. Belot includes the legend of the three dead and the three living and The 15 signs preceding Judgement Day (i.e. a fuller text).

    This means that even if Belot had copied Trepperel's book, he would still have had to consult other (Parisian) books.

  2. The Geneva and Lyon versions (unlike Trepperel) indent the first line of each verse.

    This is also true for the ballad beginning, "Puis quainsi est que la mort est certaine", which several publishers apparently thought to be an integral part of La Danse Macabre. This ballad consists of four verses with respectively 10, 10, 10 and 5 lines, which Belot of Geneva (or anybody else) would not have known from reading Trepperel's un-indented version.

  3. Trepperels versions are lacking a woodcut of the Physician, while Belot has a physician with an urine glass.

    This image - like all the others - are based on the woodcuts published by Vérard, so if we assume that Belot of Geneva had first copied Trepperel's woodcuts and then ADDED the woodcut of the physician, he would have had to know that he was supposed to copy Vérard's physician.

  4. In the same way, Trepperel's versions is lacking a canon, while Belot has a canon with a furcoat, which was coped from Vérard's canon.

  5. The woodcuts in Geneva are better than the Parisian woodcuts. Notice for instance the hand that holds the spade: In the Genevan version (to the left) there's a nice thumb, while the Parisian version (to the right) makes the forearm thicker than the hand. The cardinal's hand is also more primitive in the Parisian version.

    Can you create a superior version based on an inferior model? Perhaps, but if Belot knew he had to locate a copy of Vérard (see points c and d), why not copy the whole series directly from Vérard and skip Trepperel altogether?

Lyon, 1537

La dance, macabre, 1537
Nicole de la Barre, Lyon

The same woodcuts were used in Lyon in 1537 by Pierre de Saincte Lucie Dict le Prince. This time too the dance of death was "packaged" together with the three living and the three dead and the 15 signs.

Compared to the 1500-edition two or three woodcuts are missing: The nobleman with his hunting falcon is replaced by using the woodcut of the knight twice, while the parish priest is illustrated by reusing the canon. Two dancers, viz. the Carthusian and the sergeant are entirely missing. The sequence is also slightly different towards the end, for one thing the clerk has moved forwards.

The text in these books has (of course) been altered a few places. In the original text the first lines of Death's call to the monk is in reality a continuation of the dialogue with the previous dancer, the sergeant, who is told that he will not scare any more people: »Plus hommes nespoventeres«. It's only in the fourth line (which has been indented) that Death addresses the monk: »Apres moinne«. In contrast the two books we have studied have re-written the text so the whole verse is spoken to the monk. He is told that he will never be an abbot, because he shall die:

Danse Macabre (1485)Geneva / Lyon

Ha: maistre: par la passeres
Naiez ia soing de vous deffendre
Plus hommes nespoventeres.
    Apres moinne sans plus actendre.

Ha maistre par la passeres
Nayez ia soing de vous deffendre
Ne jamais abbe pas seres.
Mourir vous fault sans plus actendre.

The same thing happens when we come to the Franciscan: The first one and a half lines are last words to the peasant/laborer: »Faictes voye: vous aves tort Laboureur«. In 1486 Guy Marchant added 10 new dancers and this meant that the previous dancer no longer was the peasant but a shepherd. Therefore the text had to be revised: »Faicte voye vous aves tort Sus bergier«. Barre's books has a quite different text where the whole verse addresses the Franciscan:

Danse Macabre (1485)Danse Macabre (1486)Geneva / Lyon

Faictes voye: vous aves tort
Laboureur.     Apres cordelier
Souvent aves preschie de mort
Si vous devez moins merveillier.

Faicte voye vous aves tort
Sus bergier.     Apres cordelier
Souvent aves preschie de mort
Si vous devez moing merveillier.

Contre moy ne vault nul effort
vous le scavez bien cordelier
Souvent aves presche de mort
Dont vous devez mains merveilier.

A last example is the clerk and the hermit. The four first lines are a farewell to the clerk: »Clerc: point ne fault faire refus«. In Barre's books the word "Clerc" has been removed (and line 5 is not indented), so the reader may believe that the whole verse is for the hermit.

There are a number of other changes. This can be seen, when Silvestre, Tisserand and Dufour copy these variants.

The pictures are presented here in the same sequence as in the 1500-edition of Geneva. Woodcuts that are reused are only shown once, and with the exception of the duke, only persons among the original 30 from the mural in Paris are shown.

Jean Belot 1858: Belot
Jean Belot 1500: Authority
Jean Belot 1500: Pope
Jean Belot 1500: Emperor
Jean Belot 1500: Cardinal
Jean Belot 1500: King
Jean Belot 1500: Duke
Jean Belot 1500: Patriarch
Jean Belot 1500: Connétable
Jean Belot 1500: Archbishop
Jean Belot 1500: Knight
Jean Belot 1500: Bishop
Jean Belot 1500: Nobleman
Jean Belot 1500: Abbot
Jean Belot 1500: Suitor
Jean Belot 1500: Lawyer
Jean Belot 1500: Citizen
Jean Belot 1500: Canon
Jean Belot 1500: Carthusian
Jean Belot 1500: Sargent
Jean Belot 1500: Monk
Jean Belot 1500: Usurer
Jean Belot 1500: Physician
Jean Belot 1500: Bailiff
Jean Belot 1500: Astrologer
Jean Belot 1500: Minstrel
Jean Belot 1500: Priest
Jean Belot 1500: Peasant
Jean Belot 1500: Franciscan
Jean Belot 1500: Child
Jean Belot 1500: Clerk
Jean Belot 1500: Hermit

Resources and Links

Further information

Footnotes: (1)

Patrick Layet "La dance, macabre des hommes" in the book "Ihr müsst alle nach meiner Pfeife tanzen" pp. 27-33.

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