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Medieval European Art Inspired by The Plague

A Galley of Paintings Inspired by the Plague in Medieval Europe
 Images of hell, death and the morbid produced during the Medieval era were highly influenced by the Black Death that swept across Europe during the mid 1300s.
demons devils medieval plage inspired art

blackdeath inspired art

art inspired by the plague

How the Black Death Affected European Painters and Art
Thousands of painters perished, including the great Sienese geniuses, Ambrogio Lorenzetti andPietro Lorenzetti. The heart of the art world was torn open.  The horrors of the black death pervaded all aspects of Gothic culture and especially art. The effects were lasting, bringing a somber darkness to visual art, literature, and music. The dreadful trauma of this era instigated the imaginations of writers and painters in bleak and disturbing ways for decades to follow. The Apocalypse, hell, Satan and the Grim Reaper became popular subject matter.
 When the plague struck, Europe was emerging from the "dark ages"  trying to put unpleasant memories behind it and move on to a more enlightened era. Barbarians no longer ran rough shod, putting entire townships to the match  and massacring the local peasants.  Without the constant fear of invasion, art and architecture found fertile ground to grow. Gothic painters were not simply anonymous lowly craftsmen, but well respected professionals. They were held in high esteem and often interacted with clergy and wealthy patrons.  The arrival of Black death harkened in a new darker era of painting. Paintings were overflowing with tortured souls, death, dying, fire and brimstone.
What was the Plague?
 Bubonic plague is a bacillus, an organism, most often carried by infested rats who were plague-ridden with fleas. The infected  fleas, seeking a new blood meal jumped off their rodent hosts and leapt onto a human, biting their new victim causing infection.

Symptoms of the Plague

Symptoms include swelling of the lymph nodes, high fevers,  large blackish pustules that soon burst and ooze a foul liquid, aching limbs, and vomiting of blood. Finally the victim became an unrecognizable, grotesque monster. The died by the millions, alone in agony, their kinsmen fleeing in terror.  Government and Clergy tried to control the catastrophe, but the disease progressed relentlessly, eventually wiping out 80 million people.
Preventing the Plague
Many believed that the disease was spread upon the air, So, the survivors turned to incense, fragrant oils and perfumes to ward off the deadly vapors that they believed to be causing the infection. With so many bodies piling up, if nothing else the air smelled a bit better. Towns rang church bells and held parades where all the citizens paraded through the streets banging pots and pans to drive the plague away. Gypsies, Jews, foreign travelers, and lepers were hunted down and killed as they were believed to be the carriers of the disease. Medieval entrepreneurs made a fortune selling talismans, lucky charms and enchantments. Peasants who could not afford such luxuries simply wore a necklace of garlic around their necks or crushed herbs in their pockets. People were frantic for a remedy and would try anything, no matter how peculiar or bizarre.

A Medieval Song about the Plague

"A sickly season," the merchant said,
"The town I left was filled with dead,
and everywhere these queer red flies
crawled upon the corpses' eyes,
eating them away."

"Fair make you sick," the merchant said,
"They crawled upon the wine and bread.
Pale priests with oil and books,
bulging eyes and crazy looks,
dropping like the flies."

"I had to laugh," the merchant said,
"The doctors purged, and dosed, and bled;
"And proved through solemn disputation
"The cause lay in some constellation.
"Then they began to die."

"First they sneezed," the merchant said,
"And then they turned the brightest red,
Begged for water, then fell back.
With bulging eyes and face turned black,
they waited for the flies."

"I came away," the merchant said,
"You can't do business with the dead.
"So I've come here to ply my trade.
"You'll find this to be a fine brocade..."

And then he sneezed.



Major Medieval Painters

Hieronymus Bosch

Matthias Grünewald

 Albrecht Dürer

 Duccio di Buoninsegna 

Coppo di Marcovaldo

 Pietro Lorenzetti

Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Lippo Memmi

Simone Martini

Taddeo di Bartolo

 Lucas Cranach

Hans Holbein

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