The Danse Macabre, also known as the Dance of Death, was a popular artistic genre during the Middle Ages that explored the inescapability of death. Many were directly connected to the plagues and epidemics that ravished medieval Europe.
Artwork relating to the genre often displays death, or death personified, as leading a procession of dancing people to their graves. The depictions were also meant to drive home the theme that no matter one’s social standing, there was no escaping death. Some historians believe the paintings depicted people rejoicing with death to help survivors cope with mourning and to unite a populous with strict social hierarchy.
Only a handful of Danse Macabre paintings survived the era. Those featured inside the Chapel of St Mary of the Rocks are among the oldest. They were crafted by master painter Vincent de Kastav and feature scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus, along with a portrait of Saint Martin to name a few. The chapel was finished in 1474.
Along the western wall is the best example of the Danse Macabre and features a pope, cardinal, bishop, innkeeper, and several others dancing with death depicted as skeletons. Death is also playing a harmonious tune on a set of bagpipes. What makes this fresco even more interesting is that children and the infirmed are leading the procession.
Part of the fresco was damaged during the 18th century when windows were installed on the side walls. Most of the decorations, including the main part of the Dance of Death procession, survived the times and presents visitors with an insight into medieval mortality.
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