Petit Laurens, La danse macabree

La danse macabree / Le petit laurens
Petit Laurens, Laurens
Halberdier and fool
Petit Laurens, Halberdier and fool

This book is something of a mystery. It features all the men from Miroer Salutaire, i.e. it also includes the ten men, who were added by Guy Marchant in 1485/86, like for instance halberdier and fool (picture to the right).

At first glance, one could in fact easily mistake it for another edition by Guy Marchant, for the copies are very detailed. The figures are slightly more caricatured, but every leaf and blade of grass in the background has been copied. Claudin writes enthusiastically about them (see external link below): »Tout le reste, les costumes, les attitudes des personnages sont copiés avec une fidélité scrupuleuse; on ne trouve de dissemblances que dans les touffes de plantes et d'herbes du terrain sur lequel se passe la scène«.

The only known copy starts with the pope and emperor (see images further below), followed by the expanded sequence: Altogether 40 men, finished by the dead king and the authority.

After the dance comes an image of Death on a pale horse riding out of a Hellmouth. This scene doesn't normally appear in La Danse Macabre, but is a stock character in those "shepherd's calendars" that Marchant also published. The text begins: »Pecheur regarde ta figure / En celle mort deffiguree«. The same text with a similar woodcut is also featured in the versions of La Danse Macabre from Troyes in 1531 and ca. 1600.

The two last pages, both in Marchant's 1486-edition and Laurens' book, consist of three elements: First a short ballad with 3 × 16 + 5 lines and the refrain: »Homme deffait et a perdicion«. Secondly a Latin poem of 5 lines praising the art of printing. The poem, which is attributed to Jean de Rochechouart, bishop of Saintes, begins: »Arte nova pressos si cernis mente libellos […]«. And third and last, a colophon.

The colophon runs: »Cy finist la danse macabre historiee et augmentee de plusieurs nouueaulx parsonnaiges et beaulx ditz / tant en latin que en francoys nouuellement ainsi composee Et imprimee a paris par Le petit laurens«. This is, letter by letter, reminiscent of similar colophons by Marchant, except that these (of course) say "par guyot marchant", and that Marchant usually adds where and when his books were printed.

Guy Marchant: Pope and emperor
Guy Marchant, Pope and emperor
Petit Laurens: Pope and emperor
Petit Laurens, Pope and emperor

There is a good reason why the images are so similar to the ones we know from Guy Marchant and from Troyes. The man, who had produced these woodcuts (and also the woodcuts for the shepherd's calendars and dances of death for the competitor, Vérard), was Pierre le Rouge, and in 1491 his son, Guillaume, was forced to cut a copy of the blocks:

In 1491, Guillaume Le Rouge settles down in Troyes and his first work is a dance of death. But Guy Marchant at the same time too, was printing a new edition of the dance of Death with the engravings provided by Pierre Le Rouge. Guillaume could not use these plates and was forced to engrave anew in wood the series of the dance of the men. Only at the death of Pierre Le Rouge did ownership of the plates return to his heirs. Indeed we meet them in Troyes from 1496 and onward, and we do not see editions of the Danse Macabre by Guy Marchant after the death of Pierre Le Rouge.

(Monceaux, Les Le Rouge de Chablis(1))

On a sidenote Monceaux is not entirely right, when he states that Marchant didn't publish more editions of Danse Macabre after the death of Pierre le Rouge. It's true that the last book from his office titled "Danse Macabre" was in 1492, but in 1499 he published »Compost et Kalendrier des Bergeres« and at the back of this calendar were the authority, the four musicians and all the women from queen and duchess to bigot woman and fool, finished off with the authority and dead queen. With the possible exception of the latter (authority and dead queen) these woodcuts were those used by the family Le Rouge i Troyes for centuries.

Back to Laurens and his copies. Claudin has a similar story to tell:

Le Petit Laurens has only reproduced an edition of Dance Macabre, which Guillaume Le Rouge had printed at Troyes in 1491, and he used the same plates, as far as we were able to determine.

(Histoire de l'imprimerie en France(2))

Both authors express themselves vaguely: Monceaux nowhere writes that Petit Laurens has employed these woodcuts, and Claudin ends: "as far as we were able to determine". This vagueness might be because many of these books are difficult to get access to.

La danse macabree / Le petit laurens
Petit Laurens, Laurens

Fortunately we find "the missing link" in "Les Le Rouge de Chablis", volume 1 page 178. Here is a reproduction of the parish priest and peasant, and it's very obvious that it's from the series that we are inspecting here. The subtitle says, "Paris et Troyes". In volume 2 page 54 there's a copy of the dead king and the authority with the subtitle, "Troyes, Guillaume Le Rouge, 1491". Thus it is established that the woodcuts are those that Guillaume Le Rouge made in 1491.


Let us take one more look at Laurent's printer's mark (to the right). It contains his motto: »Chascun soit content de ses biens / Qui na sufisance na riens«.

Oddly enough, these lines were taken from the hermit's words, which finish the Danse Macabre (line 502+504). In Laurent's book they are rendered as follows:

Bien suis contens de tous ses biens
Desquelz iay vse de sa grace.
Qui na suffisance il na riens.
I am well pleased with all His good things
that I have made use of through His grace.
He who has not contentment, he has nothing.

The missing beginning

Pierre Le Rouge: Alternative authority
Petit Laurens, Lacteur

As mentioned there is only a single copy of this book in existence, and this exemplar contains neither the authority nor the four musicians. But have they been there originally?

The two versions of pope and emperor (above) are almost identical. But it's not just that they look the same, they are also both printed on the same page, a.iii. Therefore it's tempting to speculate what Petit Laurens had put on pages a.ii and a.ii verso. Since he had copies of all the other woodcuts, including the ten men that Marchant had added, it's not a great leap to suggest that Laurens also had a copy of the authority and the four musicians.

L'Ordinaire des chrétiens:
"O creature raisonnable"
Petit Laurens, L'ordinaire

There is in fact an alternative version of the authority, which was used in many books published by the family Le Rouge (picture to the right).

Claudin reproduces the same image in his treatment of Petit Laurens' book (page 123), although he doesn't clarify why it was included. This authority is also depicted in "Les Le Rouge de Chablis", volume 2 between pages 16 and 17, with the subtitle: "Troyes, Danse des Morts, Guillaume le Rouge, Troyes, 1491, et à Paris".

Petit Laurence used this woodcut (with an empty scroll) in "Lomme pecheur par personnages, joué en la ville de Tours" printed for Guillaume Eustace in 1494, "Le songe du vergier" printed for Jehan Petit in 1499, and "L'Ordinaire des chrétiens" from 1500-1502. The latter even starts with the text: "O creature raisonnable" (picture to the left).

Petit Laurens also used this woodcut together with Antoine Vérard 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]". The woodcut was also used by Jehan Mourand for Jehan Petit and Durand Gerlier, who also inserted a text in the scroll, in Les Postilles et expositions des Épistres et Évangilles, 1497.

Petit Laurens 1495: Laurens
Pope and emperor
Petit Laurens 1495: Pope and emperor
Cardinal and king
Petit Laurens 1495: Cardinal and king
Legate and duke
Petit Laurens 1495: Legate and duke
Patriarch and constable
Petit Laurens 1495: Patriarch and constable
Archbishop and knight
Petit Laurens 1495: Archbishop and knight
Bishop and nobleman
Petit Laurens 1495: Bishop and nobleman
Abbot and bailiff
Petit Laurens 1495: Abbot and bailiff
Astrologer and citizen
Petit Laurens 1495: Astrologer and citizen
Canon and merchant
Petit Laurens 1495: Canon and merchant
Schoolmaster and soldier
Petit Laurens 1495: Schoolmaster and soldier
Carthusian and sergeant
Petit Laurens 1495: Carthusian and sergeant
Monk and usurer
Petit Laurens 1495: Monk and usurer
Physician and suitor
Petit Laurens 1495: Physician and suitor
Lawyer and minstrel
Petit Laurens 1495: Lawyer and minstrel
Parish priest and peasant
Petit Laurens 1495: Parish priest and peasant
Promoter and jailor
Petit Laurens 1495: Promoter and jailor
Pilgrim and shepherd
Petit Laurens 1495: Pilgrim and shepherd
Franciscan monk and child
Petit Laurens 1495: Franciscan monk and child
Clerk and hermit
Petit Laurens 1495: Clerk and hermit
Halberdier and fool
Petit Laurens 1495: Halberdier and fool
Authority and dead king
Petit Laurens 1495: Authority and dead king
Pale horse
Petit Laurens 1495: Pale horse
Petit Laurens 1491: Lacteur
Petit Laurens 1502: L'ordinaire

External links

Further Information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

Translated from: »En 1491, Guillaume Le Rouge va s'installer à Troyes et son premier labeur est une Danse des Morts. Mais Guy Marchant imprimant en ce moment, lui aussi, une nouvelle édition de la Danse des Morts avec les gravures fournies par Pierre Le Rouge, Guillaume ne put se servir de ces planches et fut forcé de graver à nouveau la série des bois de la Danse des Hommes. C'est seulement à la mort de Pierre Le Rouge que ses héritiers rentrèrent en possession de ses planches. Nous les trouvons en effet à Troyes dès 1496 et on ne voit plus apparaître d'édition de la Danse Macabre chez Guy Marchant à partir de la mort de Pierre Le Rouge«.
(Henri Monceaux, Les Le Rouge de Chablis, calligraphes et miniaturistes, graveurs et imprimeurs, 1896, vol. 2, page 6)

See external link.

Translated from: »Le Petit Laurens n'a fait que reproduire une édition de La Dance Macabre que Guillaume Le Rouge avait imprimée à Troyes, en 1491, et il s'est servi des mêmes planches, ainsi que nous avons pu nous en assurer«.
(A. Claudin, Histoire de l'imprimerie en France au XVe et au XVIe siècle, vol. 2, page 126).

See external link.