The Artistic Response

  • John Aberth
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


There are many ways to measure the artistic impact of the Black Death. One approach is to examine the art produced by the generation immediately following the plague of 1348 to 1350, even if its themes make no literal reference to disease or death.1 The limitations of this approach stem from the difficulties in dating medieval works precisely—and thus establishing the Black Death as a definitive break in a genre—and by the subjective nature of interpretation.2 In one view, the Black Death brought the Renaissance spirit of innovation to a grinding halt through the deaths of its leading artists, which inaugurated a more conservative and rigid school.3 But in another view, the plague was a positive force, either by reinforcing faith through a refo– cused depiction of traditional plague saints, or by providing a major impetus to the Renaissance theme of individualism, represented by the fact that so many patrons felt impelled to commission portraits to be remembered in the face of mass death (Document 27).4


Scallop Shell Historical Monument Artistic Response Bubonic Plague Henry Versus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death: The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H. W. Van Os, “The Black Death and Sienese Painting: A Problem of Interpretation,” Art History, 4 (1981): 237–49; Joseph Polzer, “Aspects of the Fourteenth-Century Iconography of Death and the Plague,” in The Black Death: The Impact of the Fourteenth-Century Plague, ed. Daniel Williman (Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1982), 107–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Louise Marshall, “Manipulating the Sacred: Image and Plague in Renaissance Italy,” Renaissance Quarterly, 3 (1994): 485–532; Samuel K. Cohn Jr., The Cult of Remembrance and the Black Death: Six Renaissance Cities in Central Italy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); idem, “The Place of the Dead in Flanders and Tuscany: Towards a Comparative History of the Black Death,” in The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. B. Gordon and P. Marshall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 17–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Justus Friedrich Carl Hecker, The Epidemics of the Middle Ages, trans. Benjamin Guy Babington (London: G. Woodfall and Son, 1844), 80–84; Johannes Nohl, The Black Death: A Chronicle of the Plague, trans. C. H. Clarke (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 250–52.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Helmut Rosenfeld, Der Mittelalterliche Totentanz; Entstehung, Entwicklung, Bedeu-tung (Münster: Bönlau, 1954), 56–66. See also Leonard Paul Kurtz, The Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit in European Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934), 21; James Midgley Clark, The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Glasgow: Jackson, 1950), 91; and Joel Saugnieux, Les Danses Macabres de France et d’Espagne et leurs prolongements littéraires (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1972), 16.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    John Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse: Confronting Famine, War, Plague, and Death in the Later Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 2000), 205; Paul Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 156–57.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    J. Brossollet, “L’influence de la peste du Moyen Âge sur le theme de la Danse Macabre,” Pagine di storia delta medicina, 13 (1969): 38–46; J. Batany, “Les ‘Danses Macabres’: une image en negatif du fonctionnalisme social,” in Dies Ilia: Death in the Middle Ages, ed. J. H. M. Taylor (Liverpool: F. Cairns, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Henricus de Hervordia, Liber de Rebus Memorabilioribus sive Chronicon, ed. Augustus Potthast (GÆttingen: Dieterich, 1859), 280.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought and Art in France and the Netherlands in the Dawn of the Renaissance, trans. Frederik Jan Hopman (London: E. Arnold and Co., 1924), 151.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bedford/St. Martin’s 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Aberth

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations