Mixed metaphors: The Danse Macabre in medieval and early modern Europe

Sophie Oosterwijk, Stefanie Knöll

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This groundbreaking collection of essays by a host of international authorities addresses the many aspects of the Danse Macabre, a subject that has been too often overlooked in Anglo-American scholarship. The Danse was once a major motif that occurred in many different media and spread across Europe in the course of the fifteenth century, from France to England, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland, Spain, Italy and Istria. Yet the Danse is hard to define because it mixes metaphors, such as dance, dialogue and violence.

The Danse Macabre aimed to confront viewers and readers with the prospect of their own demise by showing how Death summons each and every one of us—whether high or low, young or old, rich or poor. It functioned both as a text and as a visual theme, and often in combination, while also lending itself well to performance. Now best known through the satirical woodcuts of Hans Holbein the Younger, the motif was one of several ‘macabre’ themes that developed alongside the moralising tale of the Three Living and the Three Dead and the stark depiction of the cadaver on tomb monuments.

The Danse Macabre was influenced by earlier themes, but thanks to its versatility its own impact went much further. As this corpus of innovative research will show, the Danse inspired sculptors, portrait artists, authors and dramatists such as Shakespeare far more than has been recognised until now. From the mural in 1420s Paris and John Lydgate’s poem to the subsequent dissemination in print, Mixed Metaphors will reveal the lasting influence of the Danse on European culture from the Middle Ages to the present day.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
ISBN (Print)978-1-4438-2900-7
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Dance of Death
  • macabre
  • memento mori
  • medieval iconography


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