Lübeck's Dance of Death

Lübeck's dance of death, Parish clerk and craftsman
Parish clerk and craftsman.
The chapel

Death answers the merchant

Hefstu anders nicht bedreven,
In Kopenscop, alse di was gheven,
It sal di wesen Rechtferdicheit,
Wen alle Dink to richten steit.
Hefstu di so vorwart,
Unde din Dink gans wol geklart,
Westu anders, dat is nicht gut,
Koster, kum, it wesen mot.
Have you done nothing else,
in business, than what you were given,
[then] you shall receive justice,
when all things come before the court.
Have you then kept safe [against evil]
and your business totally in order.
Were you different, that isn't good.
Parish clerk, come, it must happen.

The parish clerk

Ach, Dot, mot it sin gedan,
Nu ik erst to denen began!
In miner Kosterie mende ik klar,
Noch hogher to komen vorwar,
En grot Officium was min Sin,
Alse mi dunckt, so krige ik nin.
Ik mach des nicht gebruken,
De Dot wil mi vorsluken.
Alas Death, must it be done
now that I had just started to serve?
In my position as a clerk I thought clearly
that I could rise even higher.
A great post was my goal.
As methinks, I don't get any,
I couldn't use it.
Death will swallow me.

Death answers the parish clerk

Al werstu hogher gheresen,
In groter Var mustestu wesen,
It is diner Sele meiste Profit,
Dat gi nicht hogher resen sit.
Volghe na in mine Partie,
Wente hoch sin maket Hovardie,
Dat is al jeghen God.
Amtman, tret an, it is nen Spot.
Had you risen higher [in rank]
you would have been in greater danger.
It is best for your soul,
that you have not risen higher.
Follow me in my company,
Because to be high [in rank] makes haughtiness.
That is all against God.
Craftsman, step in, this is no joke!

The craftsman

Ach leider, wat schal mi bescheen?
Ovel hebbe ik mi vorgeseen,
Unde hebbe mi ser ovel bedacht,
Min Hantwerk so truwe nicht na getracht.
Dat Gut prisede ik sere;
Nu bidde ik di, leve Here,
Du mi de Sunde wilt vorgheven,
Unde late mi in din ewige Leven.
Oh woe, what shall happen to me?
I have foreseen badly
and have taken very bad care of myself.
I did not do my handicraft honestly
I was very fond of goods.
Now I ask you, Dear Lord,
that you will forgive me my sins,
and let me into your eternal life.

The dance of death below the Dance of Death Organ.
Dance of death with Organ
Head in the middle of the frame.

Concerning the order of the craftsman and the merchant: See the note for the previous page.

We are now at the eastern side of the chapel — just below the famous "Totentanzorgel" that Dietrich Buxtehude and probably Johann Sebastian Bach had played upon.

At the foot of the organ is a man's head of tree, and the frame of the dance of death painting has been cut in order to make room for this head.

Most books assume that it's a console figure, but Wilhelm Mantels points out that the head is not connected to the foot of the organ.(1) This makes it something of a mystery: Whose head is this, and why was it so important that it was necessary to cut into the frame of the painting?

The head wears a turban and is thought to portray a prophet, maybe David. He appears to have closed his eyes, but later photos show how eyes have been painted on the lids (see for yourself).

Footnotes: (1)

Wilhelm Mantels: Ich hielt ihn bisher für eine Schlussverzierung des Orgelfusses. Eine Besichtigung nahebei hat aber gezeigt, dass er mit der Orgel gar nicht zusammenhängt. Er ist von einer schmalen Leiste eingefasst, von Holz, an den Extremitäten unten mit Leinewand überzogen, auf dieser Kreidegrund aufgetragen, über dem Spuren von Vergoldung erkenntlich sind.
Quote from Anzeiger für Kunde der deutschen Vorzeit, 1873

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