Art produced from the years of the black plague is distinct from other works of art because it has the ability to capture a state of chaos that can envelope even the most inexperienced of viewers. The black plague occurred in Europe in the 1340’s and 1620’s, and is thought to be caused by the bubonic plague. The bacteria responsible for the bubonic plague is Yersinia pestis. The bacteria infects fleas, which can spread the bubonic plague to rats, pets, or to humans directly. These hosts can give the plague to each other after it has infected the body and becomes airborne, called the pneumonic plague. The bubonic plague was in Europe during the years 1347-1351.
Why this was so frightening:
In just four years, a third of Europe’s population was wiped out, amounting to approximately 25 million deaths. This ruthless disease did not discriminate by age–anyone was vulnerable. One of the most terrifying things about the black death is that nobody knew what was causing everyone to die. Many thought that the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins. Along with deaths due to the plague, chaos was heightened because of people murdering each other, targeting certain groups for betraying God. Symptoms of the plague include fever, vomiting blood, and appearance of red spots on the skin called buboes, which turn black as the disease progresses. After the onset of these horrific symptoms that occur within a week of exposure, the affected individual would die within the next week.
The picture above is from when the plague was affecting London in 1625. The animated skeleton wielding arrows is used to portray hell on Earth. The lightning seems to be a religious influence used to show God’s wrath. Other works of art from this time illustrate the unsettling buboes on the skin and depict the loss of a loved one. Many plague artists draw fire to portray the chaotic nature of the plague.
Treatment was not understood by the people at all. The plague still exists, but it is easily curable with antibiotics.