In the early 1300s, Europe was thriving until death swept across the entire continent. The Black Death occurred from 1348 to 1351 and spread from Asia through the trade routes. A virus that presumably came from rats infected with fleas spread rapidly from one host to another. It led to the death of over twenty million people. Symptoms included high temperatures, nausea, and boils. Even touching an ill person could result in being infected and dying. Death became a common theme in the art and literature of the period.
The emergence of Black Death art
The study of Black Death artworks at university provides students with insight into what life was like during this difficult time. The art expresses despair and sadness. Paintings show people transporting loved ones in coffins. They capture saints interceding for the plague-stricken. It was natural for artists and writers to put their trauma into their work.
The art also shows us more about medicine at the time. Doctor Schnabel von Rom by Paulus Fürst is a famous etching that students of art history may encounter. It depicts a protective garment worn by doctors in Italy and France. A bird-like mask had a beak shape and the beak stored herbs, camphor, etc. The mask had eye holes, tiny nose holes, and a strap to keep it in front of the doctor’s nose.
A student of art or literature at college often has to study the time of the Black Death in history because it had so much of an impact. Accessing free essay examples on StudyDriver about the Black Death can give them more insight into its effects. If students have to write assignments for classes, they can get inspiration from these examples.
Who or what was to blame?
Society was unprepared for the fury of the Black Death. Many people did not have an education in school as we know it today. There wasn’t a teacher giving them a lesson about the cause of the plague.
A great number of people believed the Black Death was a punishment from God for sin. Writers at the time produced grim realist literature. Religion was a common theme in many paintings. In this time of mass illiteracy, the power of visual imagery and strong narratives was a way to capture the attention of audiences. Renewed religious fervor followed in the wake of the plague. The fear of hell was real and ensuring salvation was urgent.
Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer, and poet, questioned whether the plague was sent by God or whether it came through the influence of heavenly bodies. Others looked at humans as a reason for the plague. Christians blamed Jews for poisoning public water supplies. Many paintings depicted the persecution of minorities such as the Jews.
The Dance of Death
Another common scenario in religious portraits was the deathbed scene. Other paintings represented the triumph of death over ignorant prey. An enduring visual motif emerging from the Black Death was the Dance of Death. In paintings, corpses often draw or tug the living to death. Skeletons and coffins are often depicted. The art was a manifestation of the trauma people suffered. It also reflected a passion for life and how hard it was to lose it.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted The Triumph of Death in 1562 CE. It depicted the struggle between life and death. Death triumphing over humanity was a common theme throughout the era. This particular painting was based on a poem by Petrarch.
The Virgin Mary theme
The role of the artist changed somewhat in the following centuries. Artists wanted to encourage strength against disease and for the sick to be treated with compassion. Religious themes were common and the Virgin Mary appeared in many sculptures and paintings. An artwork like Madonna of Humility by Guariento di Arpo is typical of this. Mary is a maternal figure Christians could look to for comfort. In this painting, she is nursing the Christ child and wearing a gold crown.
At the time of the Black Death, the Church gained great influence. People wanted to remove sin and ensure their salvation. Throughout the world today there are still Christian churches with representations of Mary and other religious icons.
The Black Death has created an upheaval in religion, politics, and economics. Death due to the plague was seen as punishment for sin. This caused many people to turn to the church. Death and religion were common themes in the works of artists and writers of the time. Death was depicted as triumphing over humanity. Coffins, skeletons, etc. were commonly seen. Religious imagery included saints, demons, or religious icons like Mary. The influence of this is still seen in churches today.
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