Danse Macabre, Lyon, 1499

Matthias Huss, 1499
Matthias Huss, Matthias Huss
Pope and emperor
Matthias Huss, Pope and emperor

In the section about books of hours we saw how the printers in Lyon were quick to copy the Parisian books.

The same is true for la Danse Macabre. The book to the left is from 1499 and the big decorated initial on the front page is one that was used already in 1491 for the two volumes of "La Mer des Histoires". This woodcut contains the same elements as the Parisian version of "La Mer des Histoires" from 1488.

The man who had produced the woodcuts for the Parisian "La Mer des Histoires", was Pierre le Rouge, who was also the man behind the woodcuts for the various Parisian books with la Danse Macabre. So right from the front page this book points back to Pierre le Rouge and Paris.

The same thing goes even more so for the contents. It can be divided into four groups:

Carthusian and sergeant
Matthias Huss, Carthusian and sargent
Legate and duke
Matthias Huss, Legate and duke

1) The men's dance is primarily copies of the woodcuts that Pierre la Rouge produced for Antoine Vérard. The 30 men and the three living and the three dead were copied from this book. These copies are scrupulously executed (see pictures to the left and above).

2) The figures that were added by Guy Marchant (and which Vérard didn't include), were copied from one of Marchant's books. This concerns the four musicians and the 10 extra men.

These copies are ugly and coarse. For instance the image of the legate and duke to the right bears little resemblance to the original image. There is no woodcut for the schoolmaster and soldier.

The distinct difference between these two groups might indicate that the Vérard-copies were derived from an earlier (unknown) edition.

Nun and witch
Matthias Huss, Nun and witch
Exortation de bien viure & bien mourir
Matthias Huss, Exhortation

3) The dance of the women was also copied from one of the books published by Marchant.

This book must be from 1491 or later, since that was the year the dance was expanded with the bigot woman and the fool. Marchant's 1491-edition was also the first to have woodcuts of all the women, produced by Pierre le Rouge (although he might have delegated the actual work to his son and nephew).

4) The book contains a number of edifying texts as advertised on the front page (top, left of the present page): »La grant danse macabre des hommes & des femmes hystoriee & augmentee de beaulx dis en latin. Le debat du corps et de lame. La complainte de lame dampnee. Exortation de bien viure & bien mourir. La vie du mauuais antecrist. Les quinze signes. Le iugement«. These texts were included in many of the different editions of la Danse Macabre and in the different "shepherd's calendars".

To the right we see "Exortation de bien viure & bien mourir" (exhortation to live well and die well). This text is normally illustrated with an image of a cadaver rising from his coffin in a cemetery, but in Huss' book the scene is different: A young, rich woman inspects her jewelry but is surprised by Death carrying a coffin and scythe. Death is dressed in women's clothing and wears a "hennin" — a conical hat with a veil. On the scene with the spinster this unfashionable hat is probably meant to indicate that the women belongs to a bygone era, and maybe the intention is the same on the image to the right?

Compositor, printer and booktrader
Matthias Huss, Printers

The books also contains a scene that is wholly original. On the image to the right Death fetches the printers and the booktrader — presumably busy in the act of producing copies of la Danse Macabre. One would think that this scene came at the end, like the painter in Basel, Bern and Füssen, but in fact the scene comes already between astrologer and canon.

The picture is quite famous because it's possibly the oldest depiction of a printing press, and at any rate the oldest depiction of a booktrader.

Here is the text:

      ¶ Le mort

¶ Venez danser vng tourdion
Imprimeurs sus legierement
Venez tost/ pour conclusion
Mourir vous fault certainement
Faictes vng sault habillement
Presses/ & capses vous fault laisser
Reculer ny fault nullement
A louurage on congnoist louurier.

      ¶ Le mort

¶ Sus auant vous ires apres
Maistre libraire marchez auant
Vous me regardez de bien pres
Laissez voz liures maintenant
Danser vous fault/ a quel galant
Mettez icy vostre pensee
Comment vous reculez marchant
Commencement nest pas fusee

      ¶ Les imprimeurs

Helas ou aurons nous recours
Puis que la mort nous espie
Imprime auons tous les cours
De la saincte theologie
Loix/ decret/ & poeterie/
Par nostre art plusieurs sont grans clers
Releuee en est clergie
Les vouloirs des gens sont diuers

      ¶ Le libraire

Me fault il maulgre moy danser
Ie croy que ouy/ mort me presse
Et me contrainct de me auancer
Nesse pas dure destresse
Mes liures il fault que ie laisse
Et ma boutique desormais
Dont ie pers toute lyesse
Tel est blece qui nen peult mais.


Matthias Huss' book was copied two years later by Claude Nourry


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Further Information

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