Guy Marchant's books about La Danse Macabre are famous, partly because of their big and handsome woodcuts. But the woodcuts that were published in the same period by Antoine Vérard are just as handsome, and this is not so strange. Both series were produced by the same man, Pierre le Rouge, and it is difficult to prefer either one to the other.
The pictures to the left and right show an exemplar, Velins 579 (see external link). The last lines of the colophon have been erased so all we can read is that it was printed in Paris: »Cy finist la dance Macabre historiee et augmentee De plusieurs nouueaux personnages et beaux dits. Et les trois mors & trois Vifs ensemble nouuellement ainsi composee et imprimee a paris [… … …]«.
It was typical for Vérard to erase the colophon, lest it should give credit for the work to the book printers. The paradoxical result is that this book is attributed to Vérard, precisely because of the absence of his name.
Concerning when it was printed, Henri Monceaux (see external link) estimates the year to be 1485. This guess is based on the fact that Vérard includes an extra verse towards the end, which had been added in Marchant's 1485/86-edition (the one that begins: »Bon y fait penser«), but on the other hand he doesn't include any of those characters that Marchant had added in this edition, like for instance the four musicians and the legate and the duke.
This argument is not impressive and Monceaux has failed to convince many people. Most people assume Vérard's book to be newer than Marchant's, and The Bibliothèque Nationale de France used to simply write "around 1500". After the book was re-scanned they instead write "1492".
The book to the left is very similar but not quite identical. This one has a colophon, which states that the book was printed by Gillet Coustiau and Jehan Menart in 1492: »Cy finist la dance macabre historiee et augmentee de plusieurs nouueaux personnages & beaux dits. Et les trois mors et trois vifs ensemble nouuellement ainsi composee et imprimee a paris par Gillet coustiau et Jehan menart. Lan de grace mil quatre cens quatre vings & douze le xxvi. iour de Juing«.
Even though the woodcuts were created by the same man who also created Marchant's woodcuts, and they reproduce the same mural on the cemetery wall in St. Innocents, they are not identical. This is particularly true for the structure of the images, where Vérard's images feature a vertical column in the middle of each scene. This column doesn't really separate the couples since the cadaver on the right side almost constantly reaches out to the dancer on the left (image to the left).
The content is very much like that of Marchant's books (which was also stated in the colophon): The 30 dancers from the cemetery wall in St. Innocents with an authority at the beginning and the end. The final authority has an extra verse, »Bon y fait penser soir et main«, which does not appear in the old manuscripts, and which Guy Marchant, as mentioned, didn't feature before the 1485/86-edition.
Then comes the legend of the three living and three dead; thereupon a ballad with 3 × 16 + 5 lines and the refrain: »Homme deffait et a perdicion«, and finally a Latin poem of 5 lines, which is attributed to Jean de Rochechouart, and which praises the art of printing (this then must be the promised »beaux dits«). Finally comes (the remains of) the colophon that we have already seen.
The publication to the left and right is different. It consists of a frontispiece with the French armour and 5 pages. The pages are quite large, 56 × 39 cm, so the 5 pages are sufficient for the authority, the thirty dancers, the dead king, the three living and the three dead.
However, the format has caused a shortage of space. The legend of the three living and three dead is usually opened by a hermit, but this introduction consisting of 5 × 14 verses is missing. The subsequent speeches of the dead and the living are without line breaks — obviously also to save space.
There is no colophon. The frontispiece once featured Vérard's printer's mark with two eagles holding a shield, but the shield has been painted over with the strange effect that the eagles now strut their legs out into the empty air.
The colouring is perfect and the dancers are presented on a background of blue sky and stars. Compare with the picture to the right, Lambeth Ms. 279, where the characters throw a shadow on a wall.
Vérard's publications are (presumably) later than those of Marchant and in contrast to Marchant, Vérard has not created anything new, like for instance extra verses or new participants. nevertheless his influence has been widespread. First of all, by direct copies like those made of Matthias Huss, and later by the copies of copies issued by Jean Trepperel and Nicole de la Barre, Jean Belot and Pierre de Saincte Lucie Dict le Prince and Claude Nourry.
But his influence was broader — ranging from the greatest to the smallest. A handwritten note in l'Empire de la Mort states that this work was the basis of a mural at the Château de Blois. Another mural that still exists, the one in Meslay-le-Grenet, was also copied after one of Vérard's books.
At the opposite end of the scale are those marginals that were pubslihed by Simon Vostre, and which were copied by Guillaume Godard. This is also true for manuscripts like Upenn 1945 65 13 14 and Carlos V's book of hours.