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Exhibition details for 29064 - An introduction to the Dance of Death
An introduction to the Dance of Death
Uploaded by Alison Stoddart
contains 20 images
An introduction to the Dance of Death
The Dance of Death is an artistic theme which emerged in Europe in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Many aspects of its history are unclear, and various poetic and theatrical traditions have been cited as its precursors. One certainty, however, is the theme's popularity into and beyond the fifteenth century. The earliest known pictorial Dance was painted in the Parisian Cemetery of St. Innocents around 1425. From that year onwards (if not before), the theme was adopted and adapted by visual artists across Europe; Dances of Death were painted as murals or sculpted in many countries including Scotland, England, France, Switzerland and Germany, to name a few. Later in the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth, several of these murals were translated into print, which eventually overtook painting as the Dance's primary medium until as late as the early twentieth century. Central Library has in its possession over forty Dance of Death books; these were donated in the 1940s by the collector and patron, Charles Boog Watson. The Library's collection includes books from as early as the 1500s and as late as the 1900s, but all of them hark back to the same medieval theme.
All Dances of Death are essentially representations of Death or the dead leading the living to their end. Earlier depictions often show this as a dance proper, but later versions also show Death confronting or interrupting the living without any real sense of dance. The living persons depicted are from all walks of life; Death meets the rich and powerful as well as the poor and weak. Dances of Death thus functioned as memento mori, as reminders of the one, universal human truth: that everyone dies, whatever their earthly status. Accordingly, Dances of Death also served to comfort those of lower standing; they warned against vanity, impiety and immorality too.
This exhibition will introduce the Dance of Death and its themes. It includes illustrations from many books in the Charles Boog Watson Collection, including those by Hans Holbein the Younger, Wenceslaus Hollar, Christian von Mechel and David Deuchar. The characters shown in these images - from The Pope to The Physician to The Artist to The Child - recur in most Dances of Death. Explore the images, and look out: you may even find yourself depicted!