The macabre encounter of skeletons mocking the living has haunted Case Western Reserve University art historian Elina Gertsman’s imagination since childhood walks with her grandfather through the St. Nicholas Church in Tallinn, Estonia (now the Art Museum of Estonia). That childhood fascination led to Gertsman’s newly published book, The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages: Image, Text, Performance (Brepols, 2010), a rare and long-awaited volume on the subject. Gertsman is an assistant professor in the art history department, who started at the university in August. At Case Western Reserve University, she teaches courses on medieval art, including Gothic Art, Medieval Art, Women and Medieval Visual Culture and a seminar on Death in Medieval Art.
The Dance of Death is a late medieval genre that, when incarnated as a large-scale public artwork, often combines images and text. The procession of figures often starts with a pope and then alternates with skeletons or corpses by societal hierarchy from the rich to the poor, the powerful to the powerless. It includes both young and old, lay people and clerics.
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