From right to left. The Lübeck Middle Low German ‘Danse Macabre’ of 1520

Friedel Roolfs (Muenster)

Location: Old Library Building 3.18
Time/Date: 13th May 2010, 16:00 - 17:00

Lübeck, centre of the Hanseatic League, is the source of two different late medieval editions of the ‘Danse Macabre’. Both of them were published by the so-called 'Mohnkopf'-press and are based on the most important Middle Low German 'danse macabre', a monumental wall-painting from 1463 in St Mary’s Church, Lübeck. Following a brief description of this Danse Macabre, the paper will explore what happens when the form of representation is changed from artwork on a church or cemetery wall to printed text with woodcut illustrations.The earlier print, an incunable from 1489, concentrates on the text, which is three times longer than the original model. The later print from 1520, the last in the Lübeck ‘danse macabre’ tradition, recycles the wooducts of the earlier print but otherwise keeps more closely to the wall painting. Its most peculiar element is the reversal of the reading direction: the right hand side of each open double page has to be read first, followed by the left-hand side. The reader is expected to follow this back and forth movement – a bizarre fact that is certainly in need of an explanation and which will be discussed in this paper.

Published: 12th March 2010