I love dispatch I strike at once
The wit, the wise, the fool, the dunce;
The steel-clad soldier, stout and bold,
The miser with his treasur'd gold;
The studious sage, and matron grave,
The haughty noble, and the slave,
I strip, with unrelenting paw,
The ermine from the man of law:
Disrobe the prelate of his his lawn;
And dim with clouds the op'ning dawn...
The Danse Macabre, which I mentioned in passing in the Posada entry recently, probably arose in early 15th century Europe as a response to the widespread deaths caused by the plague - the 'black death'.
The earliest examples of the genre were painted as frescoes on church walls and the motif - essentially reminding people that life is short and death catches up to everyone - became popular in artwork across the continent. The series of paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger in the latter half of the 16th century are the best known examples.
The aquatints above are based on the engravings by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) who added an English flavour to the mix. Together with some rather insipid verse written by his associate Dr William Coombe, The English Dance of Death from the Designs by Thomas Rowlandson with Metrical Illustrations was released in under-subscribed installments between 1814 and 1816.
A series of 96 handcoloured engravings that gravitate between grotesque and humorous were perhaps more than a little ambitious, even for this pair, who had already achieved great popularity with their Dr. Syntax comical publications a few years earlier. The remainedered subscriptions were bound in 2 volumes for general sale. [There was a 3rd Dance of Life book issued later]
- The Rowlandson/Coombe English Dance of Death Volume One is online at the Carnegie Mellon University's Posner Library. There are enormous jpeg images available - the site is excellent on the one hand, but equally fitted out with illogical navigation tools. [vol. 2 might be there also - I don't recall]
- A timeline of Danse Macabre works in Europe.
- A long book passage - Danse Macabre in Book Illustration by Marcia Collins 1978, extracted from the Ellis Library, University of Missouri.
- An account of the publishing of the English Dance of Death.
- Thomas Rowlandson - wikipedia.
- [previous entry relating to Rowlandson]