Hi! I’m the new Distinctive Collections librarian at Falvey Memorial Library. I came from the Science History Institute where I was an Allington Postdoctoral Fellow (2020-2022) training in the Special Collections. I have a PhD in history from Georgia State University, and my research is on the materiality of early print and scribal culture in alchemical texts. I have worked on public programming around digitizing materiality in special collections materials, and recently cracked a 17th century cipher text containing an alchemical recipe for the Philosophers’ Stone.
This is the inaugural post in a new blog series where I will highlight materials in our Distinctive Collections. For the month of October, this series will be Halloween themed.
Meg Piorko’s Weekly Picks
The Dance of Death (Paris: 1490)
Facsimile reproduction made from the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress
Latin ed. printed by Guyot Marchand for publisher Geoffroi de Marnef.
This edition contains 24 woodcuts depicting Danse Macabre, or the Dance of Death featuring images ranging from daily life scenes such as “The Author writing” to more serious religious themes such as “Four figures of Death, playing on musical instruments.”
This practice of juxtaposing everyday life with mortality comes from the memento mori tradition, and functions to impress upon the viewer that they must always be ready to meet Death because no one knows when it will find them.
The first French edition of this text (published in 1485) contained 17 woodcut illustrations. This book was so popular, that the very next year a Dance of Death of Women was published (there are no feminine figures in the first edition). Subsequent French editions contain printed illustrations from both.
These editions are examples of very early hand-press printing and are referred to as incunables. However, there is evidence of people using engraving techniques to print images on textiles all the way back to 7th century Egypt!
This facsimile and other spooky rare books will be on display at our Halloween Event. Stop by and say hi (or ‘Boo!’) to some of the Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement staff.