Gallery of European Art
The Mews Courtyard

594 Valley Road
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
Tel. (973) 744 0111





                   LA DANSE MACABRE

            Dance of Death – Totentanz – La Danza Macabra



                                      Metamorphoses                       Death of Death

                                     by Luigi Casalino                     by Luigi Casalino


It is a medieval allegory on the universality of death. No matter one’s station in life, the dance of death unite all. It consists of personified death leading a row of dancing figures from all walks of life to the grave, usually with emperor, king, pope, monk, beggar, and child. It reminds people of how fragile their lives are and how vain the glories of earthly life are. The epidemics (such as the Black Death) so frequent and so destructive in the Middle Ages, brought before popular imagination the subject of death and its universal sway. The purpose was to teach the truth that all men must die and should therefore prepare themselves to appear before their Judge. The earliest examples are found in Spain (“La Danza General de la Muerte”, 1360), France (cemetery of the Church of the Holy Innocents, Paris, 1424), Germany (Bernt Notke, Lubeck), in England (John Lydgate’s “Dance of Death”, XV century), in Italy (“Triumph of Death” in the cemetery in Pisa, circa 1500), and in Poland, Austria, and Switzerland (Konrad Witz, Basel). In many representations underneath the several couples are found a rhymed dialogue between Death and his victims. With the development of engraving the dance of death became very popular subject with many artists. The most famous version of “Dance of Death” is that of Hans Holbein the younger, a series of 42 woodcuts based on his drawings, issued for the first time in 1538

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