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Dance of Death

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DANCE OF DEATH, a grotesque allegori cal representation in which the figure of Death under various forms takes the lead, followed by dancers of all ages and conditions. It was fre quently drawn by artists of the Middle Ages for cemeteries and cloisters. These representations were common in Germany, and also in France, where they received the name of Donee Macabre. This term is supposed by some to be derived from the Arabic magbarah, a cemetery, but much more probably from the Chorea Macho beorum, or dance of the Maccabees, a kind of dramatic representation performed in the Mid dle Ages, in which the seven martyred brothers mentioned in the second book of Maccabees (Apocrypha) would appear to have been intro duced. A Dance of Death was painted on the, walls of the churchyard of the Innocents at Paris, about the middle of the 15th century, which the chapter of Saint Paul's in London caused to be copied, to adorn the walls of its monastery. Gabriel Peignot, in the 'Recherches sur les danses des worts et sur l'origine des cartes ajotter' (Dijon and Paris 1826), hives. tigated the origin of the Dance of Death in France, and explained the dancing positions of the skeletons, by the fact which old chronicles relate, that those who were attacked by the plague ran from their houses, making violent efforts to restore their rapidly declining strength by all kinds of morbid movements. The most

remarkable Dance of Death was painted, in fresco, on the walls of the churchyard in the suburb of Saint John at Basel, which was in jured, in early times, by being washed over, and is now entirely destroyed. This piece has been ascribed to Hans Holbein (q.v.), but it has long since been proved that it existed 60 years before his birth. It was painted at Basel in the year 1431, by an unknown artist, in commemoration of the plague, which prevailed there at that time. It represented Death as summoning to the dance persons of all ranks, from the Pope and the emperor down to the beggar, and was explained by edifying rhymes. That piece con tained about 60 figures as large as life. Be sides being ascribed to Holbein, as was before stated, it has also been ascribed to a painter named Glauber but without foundation. Hol bein perhaps conceived, from this picture, the idea of his Dance of Death; the original draw ings of which are at Saint Petersburg. fine engravings of these are in the Jean Holbein, par Chret. de Mechel) (Vol. I, Basel 1780). Consult Goelte, 'Holbein's Toten tanz and seine Vorbilder' (Strassburg 1897); Seelmann, 'Die Todentanze des Mittelalters' (Norden 1893).