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Monsieur de Chertablon, La manière de se bien préparer à la mort

Chertablon, Mr. de, La manière de se bien préparer à la mort par des considerations sur la Cène, la Passion, & la Mort de Jesus-Christ : avec de très-belles estampes emblematiques, George Gallet, Antwerp, 1700. Baillieu Library, Rare Books, The University of Melbourne.
This volume contains De Chertablon’s La manière de se bien préparer à la mort par des considerations sur la Cène, la Passion, & la Mort de Jesus-Christ (The way to prepare oneself well for death by contemplating the Last Supper, the Passion and the Death of Christ), preceded by a German translation of this text. The works follow the established ars moriendi (art of dying) genre, which emerged primarily for lay-people in the fifteenth century (Reinis, 2007, pp. 2-4). The book was probably printed in Amsterdam, despite the imprint ‘Anvers’ (Antwerp) (Coppens, 1995, p. 283).Little is known of De Chertablon (Coppens, 1995, p. 182). A possible identification with David de la Vigne, whose Miroir de la Bonne Mort (Mirror of a Good Death) he extended and revised in La Manière, seems dubious (Baillieu Catalogue, Coppens, 1995, p. 282). The German translation, by an unknown translator ‘I.A.F.’, includes a modified preface by a famous discalced Augustinian preacher, Abraham a Sancta Clara (1644-1709) (Roth, 1944, p. 297). Abraham grew up in a town recently decimated by the 30 Years War. Later, he saw plague claim approximately one third of Vienna’s population (Scherer, 1973, p. 4). As court preacher to the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I and appointed preacher to a death-fraternity (Roth, 1944, p. 297), he wrote on death and sought to hold up a mirror to the nobility to reveal their faults. This book is just such a mirror (Scherer, 1970). 

De la Vigne’s Miroir de la Bonne Mort (Mirror of a Good Death) was printed in Paris in 1646 by Rolet le Duc, following the death of De la Vigne’s patron Philippe Cospeau, Bishop of Lisieux. It had three sections: The Bishop’s illness and death, Christ’s Passion, and the crucifixion. In 1673, another version was printed in the Northern Netherlands, with etchings by Romeyn de Hooghe. A twin French/Dutch edition was published soon afterwards in the Southern Netherlands. De Hooghe provided three frontispieces, one for each section, and 39 etchings describing the beginning, middle and end of an illness (Coppens, 1995, p. 244, 281-283).

De Hooghe was a book illustrator, print collector, and is most famous for his ‘political caricatures of Louis XIV of France and his prints glorifying William III’ (Otten, 1996 p. 737-738). His work typifies the late Dutch Baroque style, with strong contrasts of light and dark. These images also show De Hooghe’s interest in background material. (Bryan, 1936, p. 30, Benezit, 1999 p. 163, Otten, 1996, vol. 14 p. 737-738).

His 42 etchings illustrate the Catholic La Manière, as they would a later protestant commentary on dying (Coppens, 1995, pp. 282f). Twenty etchings for La Manière are in reverse to the originals printed in La Miroir, and two are in reverse order (Landwehr, 1970, p. 185). De Chertablon’s commentary is more elaborate than de la Vigne’s, with each individual etching facing its own commentary.

The etchings, apart from the frontispieces, are formulaic, illustrating key features of the work. The facing text always begins with a scriptural phrase, in Latin and French translation, which appears in the tableau, followed by commentary drawing on other biblical and patristic texts. Precise textual references appear as marginalia in smaller font. Each of these etchings depicts a dying man. A guardian angel points to putti who hold up a tableau of a biblical scene from which the dying man should draw comfort. Five images depict the angel accompanying the man while a devil tempts him (for one example see above p. 44). This motif is common in ars moriendi works dating from the famous fifteenth century ars moriendi block-book, c.1414-1418 (Ariès, 1981, pp. 107-110 and Duffy, 2005, pp. 316-317). The fight for the soul occurs at the moment of death (Ariès, 1981, pp. 206-208). In the above example (p. 44) the devil tempts the person to despair by showing him his sins. The angel’s response is Matthew 9:2 ‘take heart, son: your sins are forgiven.’ (see Reinis, 2007, pp. 3, 17-22, 45-46). Common traditions of medieval death are also represented. Dying was a public act, preferably with forewarning, in bed, with a variety of people surrounding the dying person (Ariès, 1981, p. 208).

The frontispieces are more programmatic and individual. The first shows a skeleton (death) knocking at a door, holding an hourglass and scythe (see above titlepage). Above the door is written ‘statutum est omnibus hominibus semel mori’ (‘it is appointed unto men once to die’) (Hebrews 9:27). Courtly activity fills the middle ground. To the left a man carries a cross up the hill, towards a ‘radiant pyramid’ with a serpent devouring itself (Scherer, 1973, p.8). Below the skeleton is an entombment, with skeletons. This scene in fictive relief is framed by conventional foliage and ribbons, but also by skulls, crossbones and a decorative border in the form of vertebrae. Signs of decay abound in skulls and snakes. The road is placed behind this inevitable death. Superficially death conquers all, but the courtiers, if they follow Jesus and the cross, will come to the pyramid, signifying the ‘infinite holiness of the triune God’, with death, now rendered powerless, eating itself (Scherer, 1973, p. 8).

The second and third frontispieces display three virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. In the second, Death leads a man to the tomb, showing that ‘la mort met fin à tout’ (death puts an end to everything) while an angel points to a ‘speculum bonae mortis’ (Mirror of a Good Death) in the top right corner, where the three virtues sit (see above p. 36). Hope and Faith sit beside the crucifix in which Jesus is revealed as charity. This is the book’s fundamental message. Death will come indiscriminately to all, because of the Fall (a snake curled in a skull holds the fateful apple atop the monument on the left). However, Jesus’ infinite charity always provides hope.

The third frontispiece reiterates this theme (see above p. 50). God is shown with the seven lamps of the Apocalypse, indicating his divine majesty. God, and the three virtues (represented in one woman), direct the ‘miserable’ to the crucifixion. The inscription reads ‘Inspice et fac secundum exemplar quod tibi in monte monstratum est’ (‘See that you make them after their pattern, which has been shown to you on the mountain’) (Exodus 25:40), an exhortation to Imitatio Christi, another key theme of the text. To the right an angel chases death and the devil away, again showing the victory of Christ crucified.

The final image re-emphasises following Christ and trusting in God in dying. The text is Luke 23:46 ‘and when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.’ The text finishes with these words. As the person dies they should repeat ‘Mon pere je remets mon ame entre vos mains’.

Further details coming soon.
Ariès, 1981

Ariès, P. The Hour of our Death, trans. H Weaver, New York: Knopf, 1981.


Benezit, 1999

Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs Dessinateurs et Graveurs de Tous les Temps et de Tous les Pays. Nouvelle édition 14 vols. Vol. 7. Paris: Gründ, 1999.

Bryan, 1926

Bryan, M. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. New ed. 5 vols. Vol. 2. London: George Bell, 1926.

Coppens, 1995

Coppens, C. Een Ars moriendi met etsen van Romeyn de Hooghe: Verhaal van een boekillustratie, Verhandelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, Klasse der Schone Kunsten. Brussels: AWLSK, 1995.

Duffy, 2005

Duffy, E. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England C.1400-C.1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005

Landwehr, 1970

Landwehr, J. Romeyn De Hooghe (1645-1708) as Book Illustrator; a Bibliography. Amsterdam: Van Gendt, 1970.

Landwehr, 1973

Landwehr, J. Romeyn De Hooghe the Etcher; Contemporary Portrayal of Europe 1662-1707. Leiden: A. Swijthoff, 1973.

Otten, 1996

Otten, M. J. C. “Hooghe, Romeyn de” in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. J Turner. 34 vols. Vol. 14. New York: Grove, 1996.

Reinis, 2007

Reinis, A. Reforming the Art of Dying: The Ars Moriendi in the German Reformation (1519-1528), St Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Roth, 1944

Roth, F. “Pater Abraham a Sancta Clara, 1644-1709.” Monatshefte für deutschen Unterricht 36, no. 6 (1944): 288-303.

Scherer, 1973

Scherer, W. F. “A “Living” Baroque “Exemplum” Of Dying.” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 27, no. 1 (1973): 3-9.

Scherer, 1970

Scherer, W. F. “Through the Looking Glass of Abraham à Sancta Clara.” MLN 85, no. 3 (1970): 374-80.


Benita Champion, University of Melbourne student enrolled in the subject Medieval Manuscripts and Early Print.

Edited by Tim Ould, research assistant on this project and PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne.

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