Julia Mattes deposited Mattes Pandemic Pictures The Justinian Plague and the Black Death in Art in the group History on Humanities Commons 1 month, 3 weeks ago
The Plague of Justinian began in 541 and quickly spread over the area of the late antique Mediterranean. There it continued in more than a dozen plague waves until the middle of the 8th century, causing much suffering and a great number of deaths. Academia traditionally debates it as the end of Antiquity. Isochronal, the effect of climate change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age, were noticeable. In addition to ancient text sources, scientific studies on climate and DNA related issues recently added remarkable knowledge. In contradiction to this the artistic representation of this theme found very little attention in research so far. Art is a very valuable source which is not only able to mirror cognitive process and attitude but also to record significant recent events in society and in politics as well as in public and private life. Depictions of various character often not only show the presented motive but also reveal the cultural history behind it, as well as habits of everyday life which can be very valuable in understanding the zeitgeist. Images of the plague are specific since they are contemporary witnesses, or a medium of memories, that express the experiences of a huge catastrophe. Contemporary plague art is not only created by contemporaries but also by survivors which make the representations a special source.
This paper aims to examine contemporary and retrospective artworks that were created during the (Justinianic) Plague. Therefore, this study focuses on selected creations produced during the two pandemics caused by Yersinia pestis. The starting point is the Justinianic Plague of the 6th – 8th century and is followed by the second pandemic of the 14th – 17th century. What will these works reveal? Will similarities or differences between the art of the first and second Plague Pandemic become apparently by comparison? What do the artistic representations say about people’s reactions to the plague pandemic, respectively the epidemic crisis?