UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Death and the illustrated book : printers, experimentation and the reinvention of the Danse macabre, 1485-c.1530s Dujakovic, Maja


This thesis considers the adaptation of the Danse macabre (Dance of Death), a popular late medieval visual and literary theme prevalent in mural paintings, into a series of illustrated books published in France towards the end of the fifteenth century. While the first known edition, printed in Paris in 1485 by Guy Marchant, was based on the famous and now destroyed mural from the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents (painted 1424-25), subsequent editions published by presses in Paris, Lyons, Troyes and Geneva included additional figures and often placed the theme together with other texts and images of similar subject matter thus framing the Danse macabre in a novel context. Despite this, however, previous scholarship has treated the books mainly as replicas of the lost mural and overlooked their status as inventive works of art. Nor have the extant editions been studied in detail even though they vary considerably in terms of content, layout and medium, all of which has an effect on how the theme is presented in each book. By studying the series within the context of early printing in France, the thesis situates the books in the transitional period of bookmaking, from scribal to printing culture, and argues that they were a product of collaboration and experimentation among some of the most prolific printers and publishers of the period, including Marchant, Antoine Vérard and Mathias Husz. In discussing their printing practices, the thesis emphasizes the crucial role the printers had in editing the work and reinventing the theme. The late fifteenth century in France was also marked by an unprecedented exchange of artistic practices across multiple media, facilitated in part by the proliferation of the printed works, which became the locus for diffusion of images and ideas. In this context, the Danse macabre books helped to popularize the late medieval theme and even served as the model for mural paintings and an illuminated manuscript. Ultimately, the thesis reveals not only that the books are distinctive and innovative works, but also that they participated in a much broader scope of image production than previously assumed.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada