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Representation of Death

The Three Dead

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The legend of the three living and the three dead most probably comes from France. The oldest manuscripts go back to the 13th century with poems of Baudoin de Condé, and Nicolas de Margival.


The Story

Three wealthy, prosperous young worthies (usually a duke, a count, and a prince) are returning one night from a feast, when on the road they encounter three animate skelettons or corpses in ascending states of decay, who repeat the momento mori, urging them to repent:.

     "Such as I was you are, and such as I am you will be. Wealth, honor and power are of no value at the hour of your death.".

Sometimes they are riding horses and ready to go hunting. Their frightened dogs surround them.


The thema of the three living and the three dead was often painted as fresco in churches to accompany a dance of death, as in Paris, Mesley-le-Grenet, Kermaria, La Ferté-Loupière (France). Nevertheless, it sometimes stands by itself as in: Sempach, Bregninge, Tuse (Denmark), Überlingen (Germany). The thema is not exploited any more after the 15th century.

Despite numerous similarities with the dance macabre, such as the dialogue between the living and the dead, as well as a division into social classes,  the three living and the three dead cannot be considered as its former direct precursor. In the dance of death, the bell has already tolled and all people must join the dance: it is too late to repent. But in "the legend", the dead try to persuade the living to repent.





Chapelle Jodokus, Überlingen.
Around 1424



Église de Skibby

Église de Kirkerup

Église de Bregninge



Église de Tuse

Collégiale St-Victor, Ennezat.

Église St-Saturnin, Conan.

Oratoire de Bois Morand, Antigny.

Église Saint-Pierre, Auvers-Le-Hamont

Église St-Martin, Courgenard
End  XVIth

Église St-Blaise et St-Orien, Meslay-Le-Grenet.
Beginning XVIth

Chapelle dédiée à la Vierge Marie,
Beginning XVIth

Église de St-Germain d'Auxerre, La Ferté-Loupière.
Beginning XVIth

Chapelle de Réveillon dédiée à St-André, La Ferté-Vidame
Beginning XVIth

Église St-Pierre, Lancôme.
Beginning XVIth

Église Notre-Dame, Alluyes
Beginning XVIth

Chapelle Ste-Catherine de l'église Notre-Dame, Antigny
Début 16ième siècle



Église St-Martin, Sempach.

copyright @ 2007 by AF