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date: 16 September 2019

Dance of Death [Fr.: danse macabre; Ger.: Totentanz]locked

  • Gordon Campbell

Extract

[Fr.: danse macabre; Ger.: Totentanz]

A pictorial or literary representation of a procession or a dance in which both the living and the dead participate. The term was first used by Jean Lefèvre in 1376, who introduced the term macabré (which was consistently so spelt until the 16th century) into French; the word clearly has Semitic origins, but its precise meaning is unknown. The earliest known pictorial Dance of Death is a Danse Macabre mural that was painted in 1424–5 in the cloisters of the Cimitière des Innocents in Paris; the procession consisted of a series of couples, one living and one dead, arranged in an order of precedence beginning with pope and emperor and ending with a hermit and a baby. Underneath each dancer an eight-line octosyllabic stanza offered a moralistic commentary with a distinct social edge: death treats all estates equally. The wall was destroyed in 1669, but the verses had been copied by the Parisian printer Guyot Marchant, who in ...

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