Der doten dantz mit figuren, clage vnd antwort schon von allen staten der werlt

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek


The Middle Rhenish Totentanz (Dance of death) originated around 1450 in Mainz. It derived from the Paris Danse de macabré, but its immediate model was a German version in the form of illustrated broadsheets. In its choice of characters, it is oriented towards the townsman; in the face of the threat of plague of epidemic proportions, it is Franciscan in its pious devotion to God's mercy. It combines texts in character (each in eight lines of verse, consisting of the accusation of Death and the confession of his surprised victim) with pictures, each of which shows a Death figure and a living person who is emblematic of and criticized as the representative of a particular social class. This edition published in Heidelberg by Heinrich Knoblochtzer (1445-1500) is the first appearance of this version of the Dance of the Death in printed book form. The motif of the forced dance is accentuated in the woodcuts by the eccentric gestures of the Death figures, their musical instruments (which vary from picture to picture), and the introductory illustration, which shows a four-piece band playing for dead dancers in a dance hall. The decorative initials of this first printing, of which only four copies are known to exist, come from the defunct printing shop of Johann Zainer, the first printer in Ulm. In the 18th century this copy was owned by J.N. Weislinger, a priest of Capell. It was then in the court library of the Elector Karl Theodor in Mannheim, before it came to Munich in the early 19th century.


Elmar Hertrich

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