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The Impact of the Bubonic Plague On Art and Artists in the Late Medieval Era

The Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, was the single most devastating event to occur during the late medieval period, wiping out nearly two thirds of all of Europe’s population. This particular span of history is often associated with death; most people (rich and poor) were most strongly concerned with the afterlife. Peasants strived to live without sinning, obeying the laws and moral rules that the Church put in place in hope of a better afterlife. Because religion promised a safe passage into the afterlife, it was either live by the Church’s rules and go to heaven, or sin and Because the people knew virtually nothing about medicine, the extremely short life spans of people made it difficult to build or develop much of anything for future generations. Nonetheless, Europe was coming out of it’s Dark Ages and the lessened amount of war across countries made time for art and architecture to be created. Most pieces created during this time depicted death, despair, and the plague itself; the grand majority of pieces done by contemporary artists turned to a very morbid tone. One of the most popular illustrations was the Dance of Death.

Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

The Dance of Death (or Danse Macabre), in most of its interpretations, represents the universal idea that death unites us all, rich or poor. This concept was especially prevalent during the time of the Black Death. In the illustration, there was typically a pope, an emperor, a labourer, and a child shown.

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