Pandaemonium

A DANSE MACABRE IN KERMARIA

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It’s a tiny chapel in the tiny hamlet of Kermaria-an-Iskuit, in Brittany. It was built in several stages from the 13th to the 15th century. The entrance porch is adorned with striking statues of the apostles. And inside is the only danse macabre fresco that survives in France. The danse macabre is a late-medieval visual allegory about the universality of death. It depicts death, usually personified as a skeleton, leading people from all walks of life – pope, emperor, king, bourgeois, labourer and child – in a dance to the life beyond. They were produced as mementos mori, to remind people of the fragility of their lives and the futility of looking to earthly glory. Whatever one’s station in life, is the moral, the dance macabre will take commit us all to the grave.

The fresco in the chapelle Kermaria, consisting of 47 figures, was painted between 1488 and 1501. It shows the figure of Ankou, death’s assistant and sometimes said to have been the first child of Adam and Eve, leading his flock in a dance of death. The fresco was whitewashed in the eighteenth century, but rediscovered by Charles de Taillart. It is, as one might image, in a fragile state, but still astonishing in its power.

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The apostles in the porch

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The danse macabre

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