The death dance shows the perishable nature of the human being. Such allegoric images appeared in European art and literature in the middle of 14th century and existed till the middle of 16th century.

The death dance is performed by the skeletons, messengers of the death; they dance with those who just died. Traditionally, the Death, disguised as a skeleton, leads people from different layers of the society to the tomb. This allegoric drama is based on the medieval idea of nullity of the human life. The genre became widespread in painting, sculpture and graphics. It appeared in Germany and quickly proliferated in France, England and Italy. The topic especially popular in Italy was the Triumph of Death. While in Northern countries the characters of such stories were obedient and despairing, in Spain they were refractory and resisting.

In early depictions up to twenty-four characters could participate in the death dance, being led to the tomb: from the Pope and the Emperor to a mother with a baby. Later the number of characters grew even more; in a cycle created by Hans Holbein, one of the last artists to depict the death dance, there were forty characters.