Continuity and Change
Invoking Traditional Structure and Updating Character Types
Early dances of death portrayed men and women from different classes in both religious and secular positions, each being led off by a figure that represented Death as a thoroughly external, supernatural entity. Differences between dances of death consisted mainly in variations in the number and identities of individual characters. Such variations are most evident in books immediately following Holbein’s influential work of 1538, but can also be found in printed books of hours from the late 15th century onwards. This traditional structure is maintained in some modern dances of death, which continue the practice of updating character types to reflect contemporary roles.