Auguste Vestris


The Morisco Dancers

Paris, August 26th 2004

The Morisco Dancers are a group of ten lime-wood sculptures, on which the original polychrome is still apparent, by the famed architect and builder Erasmus GROSSER (1450-1518).

These little beauties are now in the Munich City Museum. Six of the original sixteen figures have gone lost.

A lady at the Technical University at Munich, Dr. G. Krombholz, has reconstructed the Dances, and has even set up a group, to dance them. One can read about it here:

and there are pictures here

On the Website of the Mathematical-Scientific High School of Munich, known as the Erasmus Grasser Gymanisum (, Dr. Brandl-Ziegert has posted a paper on the Morisken Dancers ( If you can read German, do - it's fascinating.

It seems that Erasmus Grasser's sixteen Morisken figures actually launched a style, known as "Stil der verschränkten Bewegung, or The Style of Rotational Action.

What we are talking about here, is the germ of épaulement ! I find this exciting to a degree, that I'm bouncing about like a India-rubber ball writing this !

Dr. Brandl quotes another monograph on Grasser, by J. Müller-Meiningen,

"The legs are crossed one before the other; the torso is bent over them or bent backwards, while twisting sideways at the same time. The shoulders are placed in opposition: if the one be raised, the other will drop. The rotation carries over into the way the head is held - either it follows through the turn of the torso, or else turns backwards. Even the arms take part, whether crook'd, or reaching outwards here there and everywhere. Overall, it is rotational movement, imprinted upon the entire figure (…)."

(In "Die Moriskentänzer und andere Arbeiten des Erasmus Grasser für das Alte Rathaus in München", published at Munich and Zurich, 1984, page 50)

And mark this well ! The figures are also fully turned-out.

Should there be specialists reading these lines, we would be most grateful for further explanation of what the Morisken Tanz may have been.

Be that as it may, and in very coarse outline, this is what Dr. Brandl has to say:

The Moriskentanz is, as its name indicates, Spanish in origin, Morisco being the term for Muslims converted to Christianity.

The Morisken Dancers are believed to have reached Southern Germany through Burgundy, perhaps as early as the Fourteenth Century. They doubtless danced at fairs and on Holidays, to the sound of the drum and flute, around a Lady who would, at the end of the dance, be given a prize such as an apple or a ring, as would the wildest and bizarrest of the dancers.

In 1470, under Duke Albrecht IV, Munich built a great new Rathaus (Council House, Town Hall), with a vast Dancing Room for which Erasmus Grasser carved the figures. They measure between 61cm and 81.5 cm tall, and were placed six metres above the floor, at the high-point of the columns rising to the ceiling-vaults, which perspective explains why the figures' head and hand have been carved somewhat large.

Dr. Brandl believes that the splendid Dance Room may have been meant as propaganda to promote Duke Albrecht's candidacy to head the Holy Roman Empire. Grasser's work would have been considered an "absolute novelty", a showpiece for Munich as a modern capital, open to the world.

Six of the figures have gone lost. One is believed to be the Lady with the Apple or Ring, a Piper, a Drummer, and perhaps the planets Mercury, Mars (…).

A fair amount is known about Grasser, who was not merely a sculptor, but one of the day's most noted architects and builders. Thanks to the Grace of God, the Allied bombs of WWII did not destroy all his work.

In the Munich Nationalmuseum, there is to be found,

- the Monstrance altar for the Convent at St. Jakob im Anger,

- Maria und John the Evangelist for the Church at Pipping.

Other works of Grasser said to be masterpieces are,

- at Munich-Ramersdorf, the Holy Cross Altar

- at Munich, a Saint Peter from the High Altar in St. Peter's Church

- again at Munich, the Choirstalls for the Munich Frauenkirche.

In at least a dozen other cities there are major works by Grasser, such as,

- at Freisinger in the Cathedral, an Entombment

- at Salzburg in the Nonnberg-Convent, a "Holy Spirit".