Michael Wolgemut, Dance of the Deads

Various collections

Date: 1493
Technique: Woodcut

This wood engraving by Michael Wolgemut was part of the Liber Chronicum (The World's Chronical), a book written by Hartmann Schedel and published in 1493. This book is also known as the Chronical of Nuremberg. It is important to distinguish this "dance of the deads" or "dance of the skeletons" from the "Dance of Death " itself. The first one is based on folk superstition and represents only skeletons by themselves; the second is a social and spiritual lesson and always represents Death coupled with a living. This work of Wolgemut shows corpses with their internal organs coming out of their cavities, and also dancing skeletons. It mimics of one of the most intensive human activities - dancing - and is a burlesque imitation of life. This scene shows a medieval superstition according to which, during certain nights, dead people came out of their tombs to dance in cemeteries before going in search of victims. Those dead people do not dance with the living ones, but jump around, urging a skeleton to get out of an open tomb. These dead ones, who have fun by themselves, without any living ones, bring a new definition of the macabre art. This engraving is an unusual representation of the Christian lesson of the waking up of the deads during the Last Judgement, which announces the end of the world.

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