The “Dance of Death” is the name generally given to a series of pictures and moral compositions intended to remind the thoughtful of the impermanence of material dignities and honours. The symbolism originated in pagan antiquity, but the development of the theme is now associated with Swiss artists working in Basel in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. This version of La danse macabre is referred to as the Basel recension.
It seems to me that this cycle of morality emblems is part of the Humanist motion. All the designs point to death as the destroyer of the artificial preferments bestowed by wealth, heredity, and political conspiracy. The rich and the poor, the great and the small, the high and the low are called from their various preoccupations by the drums of death.
No one is immune, and thus all ambitions are part of the passing vanity of the world. The pictures preached a powerful message against privileged classes, and recommended that the human being dedicate his life to the accumulation of those spiritual treasures which could not be taken from him by the capering skeleton. In death, the Pope and the peasant, the king and the beggar danced together to the pipes of the unwelcome musician.
Manly P. Hall
The Adepts In the Western Esoteric Tradition, Orders of the Great Work