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The Reval Dance of Death

About the Reval Dance of Death

The Reval Dance of Death fragment, which can still be seen today in St Nicholas’ Church in Tallinn, is related to the Lübeck Dance of Death. The late medieval painting 1.63 m high and 7.56 m long is painted on canvas using a mixed technique of tempera and oil. The initial figures, the preacher and the bagpipe-playing Death, deviate from the Lübeck Dance of Death. The following eleven figures - the coffin-bearing Death, the Pope, the Emperor, the Empress, the Cardinal, the King and the death figures accompanying them - on the other hand, almost match those of the Lübeck frieze in posture and dress. As in that frieze the dialogue between the representatives of the different estates and Death is expressed in Low German verses, which, as in the Lübeck Dance of Death, show traces of their French and Dutch originals. The landscape background of the Reval fragments, however, is different from that of the Lübeck Dance of Death: on the Reval frieze the artist has idyllically embedded amidst hills and hedges buildings in the style of Lübeck architecture. Small scenes, not influenced by the events of the death dance in the foreground, enliven the hilly landscape in autumnal splendour. The death dance figures themselves wear precious furs and colourful brocade robes in bright shades of red, gold and brown; their faces gain in strong expressiveness by means of the contrasting colours. The narrow pictorial space underlines the monumental effect of the painting. The Reval Dance of Death shows Bernt Notke's stylistic traits characteristic of his late artistic work. Notke created the Reval frieze as a replica of his Lübeck Dance of Death for St Nicholas’ Church in Tallinn. Due to its colourfulness and above all the landscape design it can be assumed that the Reval work was painted around 1500.

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