The Latin texts

Marchant 1486: authority and angel
Guy Marchant, Authority
Manuscript Français 25550. Before the dance come 2 + 4 lines
Français 25550

This section about La Danse Macabre focuses on the French text. But my good friend, Mischa von Perger, wrote to me: "You should mention that the Latin prologue of the dance, according to the mss. from Saint-Victor, begins with a reference to a picture: "Haec pictura .". So the copied lines themselves tell us that we are reading verses which should accompany a picture.".

This is an important point: In Guy Marchant's book from 1486 (picture to the left) the angel holds a scroll with a Latin text: »Hec pictura decus. pompam. luxumque relegat : inque choris nostris ducere festa monet«. The same thing is true for the books published by Antoine Vérard and Claude Nourry (pictures further down). The angel tellls us that »This painting banishes pride, vanity and luxury«(1).

These two lines were neither invented by Marchant, Vérard nor Nourry. The same lines introduce many of the old manuscripts (see example to the right), so in this way they are just as much an integral part of La Danse Macabre as the French verses are.

Antoine Vérard: authority and angel
Antoine Vérard, Authority
Claude Nourry, authority and angel
Claude Nourry, Authority

No less than five of the old manuscripts feature these two lines. Besides the two manuscripts from the abbey of Saint Victor, namely Latin 14904 and Fr. 25550, they are also found in BnF Fr. 14989, BnF Fr. 1055 and BnF NAF 10032. And not only that but the two latter (Fr. 1055 and NAF 10032) inform us that the words are spoken by an angel: »Angelus loquitur«. Exactly as the pictures show.

This is not just true for the French manuscripts. Among the English translations of "The Daunce of Machabree" we find the manuscript Cambridge Trinity R 3 21, which also contains these two lines. The Trinity-manuscript is from the reign of Edward IV and since Edward IV died in 1483, the text cannot have been influenced by Marchant's woodcut from 1485. The angel also appears in another English manuscript, namely Lansdowne 699, where the authority shares the two first verses with the angel, so the second verse is spoken by "Angelus".

This means that from the very beginning there has been angel telling us that »This painting banishes pride, vanity and luxury« This is a strong indication that the text originates from a painting and that it is a transcription of the mural in St. Innocents cemetery.

Petit Laurens, authority
Petit Laurens, Lacteur
Les Postilles et expositions
Les Postilles

The only existing copy of Petit Laurens' version is lacking the first leaf, so we don't know what the authority looked like in this book. But in other publications Laurens used a variant of the authority that we see to the left,(2) and here the scroll is empty.

It is technically possible to add texts separately, and as the picture to the right shows, other printers have employed the same woodcut while adding a short text.(3) It is anybody's guess whether Petit Laurens had used this woodcut for his Danse Macabre (in all probability he did) and whether he had written »Hec pictura […]« inside the scroll.

The four lines. And all the others

Marchant 1485, the authority
Guy Marchant, the authority

But there are more Latin quotes than these two. Above Marchant's and Nourry's authority stands: »Discite vos choream cuncti qui cernitis istam:« / »Quantum prosit honor. gloria. diuicie.« / »Tales estis enim matura morte futuri:« / »Qualis in effigie mortua turba vocat.«

These four lines are even better attested that the two lines of the angel. Not only do we find them in the same 5 manuscripts, but also in Ms. Lille 139 and in a Catalan translation from the 15th century (see the external link).

It's a little uncertain whether these quotes were included in the very first printed version from 1485. Most of the first leaf after the title page is missing in the only existing copy (picture to the right). However, there is still a fraction of a corner of the angel's scroll (indicated by the red arrow), so presumably it has said »Hec pictura […]«. In contrast there are clearly no texts above the image (just as Vérard didn't have any either). It is anyone's guess whether the texts had been placed below the image. None of the other woodcuts in the 1485-edition have any Latin texts above nor below.

If we return to Marchant's version from 1486 for the third time (picture to the top, left), there are also 4 lines in the right column above the image starting: »Est commune mori mors […]« (Nourry has placed them below the image). However these lines have nothing to do with La Danse Macabre. In the 1486-edition, Guy Marchant came upon the idea of adding sundry Latin quotes to each image, and he did the same for all later versions.

Discite vos choream cuncti qui cernitis istam.
Nicolas Higman, Death
Quid tum prosit honor glorie divitie
Nicolas Higman, Adam & Eve

This tradition with Latin texts — not just »Discite vos choream […]« and »Hec pictura […]«, but also all the others that Marchant had added — was later carried on by the families Le Rouge and Oudot in Troyes and Petit Laurens and Nourry.

Many of these quotes were used by Simon Vostre in the margins of his books of hours. The examples to the left and right quote from the "original" Latin text: »Discite vos choream […]«.

The interested reader is directed to this page where Mischa von Perger has translated the quotes and commented upon them.

The authority at the end

The angel, the authority and the dead king
Guy Marchant, Authority and dead king
Vérard: authority and angel
Antoine Vérard, Dead king and authority

At the end of the dance we once again meet the angel and the authority together with a dead king. The angel has produced a new scroll:

Mortales dominus cunctos in luce creauit:
Ut capiant meritis gaudia summa poli.
Felix ille quidem mentem iugiter illuc
Dirigit: atque vigil noxia queque cauet.
Nec tamen infelix/ sceleris quem penitet acti:
Quique suum facinus plangere sepe solet
Sed viuunt homines/ tanquam mors nulla sequatur;
Et velut infernus fabula vana foret.
Cum doceat sensus viuentes morte resolui:
Atque herebi penas pagina sacra probet.
Quas qui non metuit infelix prorsus et amens
Uiuit: et ex inctus sentiet ille/ rogum.
Sic igitur cuncti sapientes viuere certent:
Ut nichil infernisit metuenda palus.

Petit Laurens: The dead king and the final authority are very close copies of the woodcut used by Marchant. This is strong indication that his version of the first authority also looked like Marchant's (as we discussed above)
Petit Laurens, Authority and dead king
Belot, The angel with the empty scroll
Jean Belot, Authority

This text is also featured on the old manuscripts; no less than six of them: Latin 14904, BnF fr. 25550, BnF fr. 14989, BnF NAF 10032, Lille 139 and BNF 995. In addition there are the abovementioned Catalan manuscript and the likewise abovementioned English manuscript Cambridge Trinity R 3 21.

Again we can quote two manuscripts for saying that the scroll must be held by an angel, for BnF Fr. 14989 and BnF NAF 10032 have the headline: »Angelus et doctor loquntur«, the angel and the doctor speak.

Nevertheless this text is not a proper part of La Danse Macabre, but is in fact much older. It was written by Saint Bruno of Cologne, also know as Bruno the Carthusian, who lived from ca. 1030 to 1101. The text was also included in the anthology Ars moriendi, "the art of dying [well]", that Guy Marchant had published in 1483.

It's an open question whether Saint Bruno's text was a part of the original mural. But this is what the angels claim, and if you can't trust an angel, then who can you trust?

Belot of Geneva used a woodcut with a empty scroll (picture to the right). In this manner he could employ the same woodcut for both authorities.

The authority with a new text
Claude Nourry, Authority
A very different text from another book
Claude Nourry, Troys Maries

Nourry has reused the woodcut of the authority at the beginning. He has changed the text on the scroll, but evidently there was not enough space for Saint Bruno's text, so instead the scroll says, »Oderunt peccare boni virtutis amore« (good men hate to sin out of their love of virtue). A quote by Horace that has very little to do with the danse macabre, but was short enough to fit inside the scroll.

Nourry used the same woodcut with a third text on the scroll in the book La Vie des troys Maries from 1519 (picture to the right). He also used it in Le kalendrier des bergiers from 1508, where the scroll was left blank.

The women's Danse Macabre

The authority, 1486
Guy Marchant, Women
The authority, 1491
Guy Marchand, Authority

The women's Danse Macabre is more recent than the men's and is known from a handful of manuscripts. None of these feature any Latin quotes.

The text was printed for the first time by Marchant in 1486, where the introducing authority was reused from the men's dance (picture to the left). This means that the angel repeats his banner with »Hec pictura […]« here, where it doesn't belong.

The women's dance was reprinted in 1491 with many new woodcuts. At the same time the woodcut of the authority was replaced by another without angel, so the two lines wirh »Hec pictura […]« disappeared. These two lines are not to be found in future publications by Marchant or the families Le Rouge and Oudot in Troyes.

On the other hand Marchant added a new text above the image, in 1486 as well as 1491:

Lex metuenda premit mortales, omnibus vna
Mors cita sed dubia. nec fugienda venit
Circuit et surgens sol vitam prestat. et item
Cun cadit anichillat quod nichil ante fuit
Sic dat. sic retrahit. iterum trahet. atque retraxit
Omnia. sol girens quod dedit. ipse trahit

Mors scita sed dubia nec fugienda venit.
Nicolas Higman, Fallen
Godard, male prophet.
Godard, Prophet

This text is not a part of La Danse Macabre des Femmes. It was authored by another Carthusian, Dionysius Carthusiensis (1402-1471). This text was also included in the Ars moriendi books that Guy Marchant had published since 1483.

A bit of this text was used in the margins by Simon Vostre (to the left). The text was quoted in full in the margins of a book of hours by Godard. Click the image to the right, and then once more to enlarge it.

The conclusion of the women's dance

The authority, the angel and the dead queen
Guy Marchand, Authority and dead queen

Guy Marchant modelled the women's dance after the men's Danse Macabre. He added sundry Latin quotes above each woodcut, like he had done for the men, and he added four musicians as a counterpart to the four musicians he had added to the men's dance (using the same woodcut).

Finally he added a dead queen as a counterpart to the dead king in the men's dance.(4) However even a casual glimpse reveals that the dead queen looks suspiciously like the dead king, and indeed the text on the angel's scroll is the same: »Mortales dominus cunctos […]«.

Further information

External link

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

Alina Zvonareva translates it: »This painting banishes pride, vanity and luxury, [and] with this our dance it teaches to lead the celebration«.

See the external link.

Petit Laurens has used this woodcut in Lomme pecheur par personnages, joué en la ville de Tours printed for Guillaume Eustace in 1494, and L'Ordinaire des chrétiens from 1500-1502.
In this example, the woodcut of the authority was used for Les Postilles et expositions des Épistres et Évangilles, 1497, by Jehan Mourand for Jehan Petit and Durand Gerlier.

As can be seen, they added the text: »Que sursum sunt sapite«.

Petit Laurens also used the woodcut in "Rommant de le Rose" from 1497-98. The woodcut appeared at the end, and inside the scroll was the name of the author: "Maistre Jehan de Meun[g]".

There is no dead queen in the old manuscripts.

There is in fact a dead queen in BNF 995, but this manuscript is more recent and is considered to be based on Guy Marchant's book from 1491.


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