Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Danceof Death

Dance of Death, or Danse Macabre, a sort of allegorical pageant representing Death's dealings with mankind, frequently represented in the sacred art of the Middle Ages. To the sacred dances customary in Pagan times, as to other Pagan observances, the Church did its best to give a Christian significance. Masquerades of the kind seem to be alluded to by Walter de Mapes in the 11th century, and are stated on doubtful authority to have taken place in Paris in the 15th. At any rate they were frequently represented in a series of pictures, on church windows or on the walls of cloisters, especially in Dominican monasteries, and on bridges, especially in Germany and Switzerland, e.g. at Lucerne. The pictures are accompanied by descriptive and moral verses, which differ much in different places. Some of these have been ascribed to a Bohemian poet, Macaber, but there is no doubt that the name is merely a corruption of that of St. Macarius, who appears in some of the paintings as a hermit. There was a celebrated Dance of Death in Basel, which was destroyed in 1806. Forty-three examples are known to have existed in England alone. The dance is also depicted in some MSS. But the Dance of Death is best known from the forty-one admirable wood engravings attributed from internal evidence to Holbein (q.v.), published as a book at Lyons in 1538. Some, however, think them the work of a certain Hans Lutzenberger. They represent, however, not so much scenes in a dance as groups of various characters, among whom "the skeletonised Death, with all the animation of a living person, forms the most important personage - sometimes amusingly ludicrous, occasionally mischievous, but always busy and characteristically occupied." (Douce, Dance of Death, p. 82.)