Louis-Catherine Silvestre, 1858

The front page
Silvestre, Silvestre
The artist makes a few improvisations. Here Death has been armed with a gigantic dart.
Silvestre, Silvestre

The first modern version af La danse macabre seems to have been the one produced in 1858 by publisher and bookseller Louis-Catherine Silvestre (1792-1867).

The book reproduces all 40 men from Guyot Marchant's 1486-version and the 36 women from the 1491-version. In the original woodcuts there were two dancing couples per page surrounded by pillars and arcades but owing to the small format of this book, each page features only one couple, who are placed out in the open (picture to the right). Particularly when it comes to the women's dance, the style is free and animated, so I have included all 36 images (see below).

Just like the original books, this one is a kind of anthology. First comes the dance of the men, which is introduced by an authority and four musicians and rounded off by a dead king and authority. Then comes the dance of the women, likewise introduced by an authority and four musicians and rounded off by a dead queen and authority (as always, the same woodcut is used for the dead king as well as for the dead queen).

After the dances come the legend of the three dead and three living, "the discussion between the body and the soul", "the lament of the damned soul" and "instruction to live well and die well". These chapters aren't allocated many woodcuts, but then again they are not the ones being advertised on the front page.

The text is a chapter on its own. The publisher explains:

The monk
Silvestre, Monk

Notre texte est celui de l'édition de 1486, augmenté, pour les femmes, des textes de la bigote et de la sotte, tirés de l'édition de 1491. L'édition attribuée à Vérard, ainsi que l'édition incomplète (Y, 6416) de la Bibliothèque impériale (que nous pensons être celle de Guy Marchant, 1490) et celle de Geneva, 1503, nous ont fourni de bonnes variantes, surtout la première de ces trois éditions.

The text then, is from the 1486-version except for the bigot woman and the fool, who didn't appear here and instead are taken from the 1491-version. The publishers have then "augmented" the text by taking "the best variants" from a version by Vérard, another incomplete version, which they believe is by Guy Marchant, and a version from Geneva, 1503.

The publisher claims they had in particular used the first of these three versions (i.e. the one by Vérard), but they have certainly used the Geneva-version as well. The clearest example is seen in the exchange between Death and the monk (picture to the right):

Marchant 1486SilvestreGeneva, 1503
Ha maistre: par la passeres
Naiez ia soing de vous deffendre
Plus hommes nespouenteres.
    Apres moinne sans plus actendre
Ha maistre par la passeres
Naiez ia soing de vous deffendre
Ne iamais abbe ne seres.
Mourir vous fault sans plus actendre
Ha maistre par la passeres
Nayes ia soing de vous deffendre.
Ne iamais abbe seres.
Mourir vous fault sans plus atendre

In both the 1485- and 1486-edition, Death begins his speech by finishing the dialogue with the previous dancer, the sergeant, who is evidently called »maistre«. Now that he is about to die, he shall not scare any more people: »Plus hommes nespoventeres«. It's only in the fourth line that Death turns to the monk, »Apres moinne«. The publisher has indented this line slightly to separate the rest of the verse from the first three lines.

In Silvestre's version the entire verse addresses the monk. This means that in this case it's the monk who is »maistre«. He is told that he will never become an abbot because he is going to die. As the table shows, the text was the same in those books that were published in Geneva, 1503.

This and other changes, that in particular originate from the books of Geneva, will be studied more closely on two other pages. It is rather revealing when Silvestre's text is used in the more famous editions by Tisserand, Theodor Hoffbauer, Dufour and Chaney, without paying Silvestre the credit he is due.

Silvestre 1858: Silvestre
Silvestre 1858: Emperor
Silvestre 1858: Bailiff
Silvestre 1858: Monk
Silvestre 1858: Child
Silvestre 1858: Fool
Silvestre 1858: Queen
Silvestre 1858: Duchess
Silvestre 1858: Regent
Knight's wife
Silvestre 1858: Knight's wife
Silvestre 1858: Abbess
Silvestre 1858: Noblewoman
Silvestre 1858: Prioress
Young woman
Silvestre 1858: Young woman
Silvestre 1858: Citizen
Silvestre 1858: Widow
Merchant's wife
Silvestre 1858: Merchant's wife
Bailiff's wife
Silvestre 1858: Bailiff's wife
Silvestre 1858: Bride
Darling wife
Silvestre 1858: Darling wife
Silvestre 1858: Virgin
Silvestre 1858: Theologian
Silvestre 1858: Newly-wed
Pregnant woman
Silvestre 1858: Pregnant woman
Silvestre 1858: Chambermaid
Silvestre 1858: Housekeeper
Silvestre 1858: Spinster
Franciscan nun
Silvestre 1858: Franciscan nun
Hospitable woman
Silvestre 1858: Hospitable woman
Silvestre 1858: Wetnurse
Silvestre 1858: Shepherdess
Silvestre 1858: Crutches
Peasant woman
Silvestre 1858: Peasant woman
Old woman
Silvestre 1858: Old woman
Resales woman
Silvestre 1858: Resales woman
Silvestre 1858: Suitoress
Silvestre 1858: Midwife
Young girl
Silvestre 1858: Young girl
Silvestre 1858: Nun
Silvestre 1858: Witch
Bigot woman
Silvestre 1858: Bigot woman
Silvestre 1858: Fool


Further Information