Elina Gertsman's multifaceted study introduces readers to the imagery and texts of the Dance of Death, an extraordinary subject that first emerged in western European art and literature in the late medieval era. Conceived from the start as an inherently public image, simultaneously intensely personal and widely accessible, the medieval Dance of Death proclaimed the inevitability of death and declared the futility of human ambition. Gertsman inquires into the theological, socio-historic, literary, and artistic contexts of the Dance of Death, exploring it as a site of interaction between text, image, and beholder. Pulling together a wide variety of sources and drawing attention to those images that have slipped through the cracks of the art historical can, Gertsman examines the visual, textual, aural, pastoral, and performative discourses that informed the creation and reception of the Dance of Death, and proposes different modes of viewing for several paintings, each of which invited the beholder to participate in an active, kinesthetic experience.
Elina Gertsman is assistant professor at the Department of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University.