The Middle Ages, or Medieval Europe or the Renaissance period saw a great deal of path-breaking reformation in Art, poetry and books. The 15th century witnessed a peculiar style in art and painting, The Danse Macabre or the Dance of Death. The artist found a platform to showcase the death as ‘The Ultimate’. A myriad of the fine depiction of showing death as inescapable along with uniformity is the core theme of these works. The artists tried to communicate that mortality is unpredictable and no one can escape death. Most of the medieval works were sadly destroyed but quite a number of them are alive in books and woodcut illustrations.
The Blanton Museum Of Art, Texas, recently demonstrated the Dance of Death works on paper, describing what each painting represented and how it reformed through centuries. The organiser, Elizabeth Welsh says, ‘Dance of Death wasn’t just a generalised response to ceasing the mortality but to a great extent an attempt by medieval Christians for social unification through the inevitability of death”. One of the earliest known Dance of Death concept was found in Cimetiere des Innocents (cemetery of Innocents) series in Paris, which was destroyed in the 17th century but an imitation could be seen in the form of woodcuts.
The 14th-15th Century witnessed the beginning of this fascinating concept. This era saw Cholera epidemic and Hundred years war, which formed this obsession to originate among the artists. Welsh adds,” the concept of Transit originated during the era”. Transit, a Cadaver tomb, is a person shown in the decomposing state. Representations from the every class of people could be seen like, the clergy, emperor, the Pope, commoner, Dukes, minister etc. paired with the dead shown as rotting skeletons with skin hanging out in a state of decomposing. The decomposed skeletons are parading the people towards grave and are often seen carrying musical instruments, triggering to mock the living. Illustrations underneath the paintings could also be found with sarcastic remarks from the Bible emphasising to the living that one cannot escape death and it happens to everyone regardless of their class, sex or age. A very well preserved proof of Dance of Death work is found in the St Mary church at Skrilinah, Beram, in Istria, painted in 1474 illustrated as “The Master of Dance of Death”.