Danse macabre, Troyes

Troyes, 1528
Troyes 1528
Troyes, 1531
Troyes 1531

It is somehow paradoxical that when the Parisians lost interest in dances of death, it was up to other cities to continue printing the old texts and images from the Parisian cemetery.

In this connection Troyes plays a very special role. The woodcuts that were used in Paris in the 1480- and 1490'ies were designed by Pierre le Rouge, and at his death in 1493 the woodcuts ended up with his nephew, Nicolas, who lived in Troyes.

The two books to the left and right are from 1528 and 1531, and the woodcut on the front page is those dead musicians that were added in 1486. The rest of the woodcuts are also the original ones. There's a change in the sequence between halberdier and fool and clerk and hermit but this might be done on purpose for this sequence is more logical.

When we come to the women's dance, two woodcuts seem to be missing (see specific details below), but apart from this the Parisian text and woodcuts were doing fine in Troyes 40 years later, and so they would for many years to come.

Troyes, ca. 1600
Oudot ca. 1600

The book to the right was printed by Nicolas Oudot and the only known copy resides at the Austrian National Library.

The library believe their book to be from 1641, but the book is in fact without a date. Maßmann estimates the year to be "15??"(1), while Langlois (who appears to use Maßmann as his only source), writes "153?".(2) The library seems to have confounded their book with another version that Oudot published in 1641.

The problem with dating the work is further complicated by father and son having the same name: Nicolas Oudot lived ca. 1565-1636, while the son, Nicolas II Oudot, lived 1616-1692. Since the book that we are examining here is very different from the book that Nicolas II Oudot published in 1641, we must assume that it was published by the father. A guess could be ca. 1600.

The front page is decorated with the dead musicians that were added in 1491, and the book contains the same woodcuts as the 1531-edition (both books contain both versions of the four dead musicians).

In this version the halberdier and fool have been moved back to the original (illogical) position after the hermit. This means that after over 100 years (depending on when this book was printed) there are only three differences in the dance sections:

  1. The woodcut of abbess and noblewoman has perished so the image of prioress and young woman is used twice.

  2. In order not to feature the image of prioress and young woman twice in a row, these two dancers swap position with the shepherdess and the woman with crutches.

  3. The woodcut of spinster and Franciscan nun has also disappeared so the image of citizeness and the widow is used twice.

But let us look at the new woodcuts from the 17th century.

17th century

External links

Further Information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

Hans Ferdinand Maßmann: Literatur der Todtentänze, 1840, page 103. The book has the number AB.19 on the list.

The version that Oudot did publish in 1641, has the number AB.28, on page 107.

Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois: Essai Historique Philosophique et Pittoresque sur les Danses des Morts, 1852, page 337. The book has the number 19 on the list.

The version that Oudot did publish in 1641, has the number 28. Notice, that both books have the same numbers as they had in Maßmann's catalogue.

Francis Francis Douce mentions the 1641-version on page 60:

»25. "La grande Danse Macabre des hommes et des femmes, &c. Troyes, Oudot," 1641, 4to. cuts. One of the bibliothèque bleue books«.

No. 27 on Douce's list seems to be the 1729-version and Douce says that this is »Nearly the same as No. 25«. The woodcuts in the 1729-version are only copies of the book we are studying here.