History of Black Death Disease

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Giving the fact the Black Death killed around 20 million people in a span of three years, art and literature were still able to flourish tremendously during the time period; for example, there were various new emerging styles of art, painting, sculpture, music, and literature. The black death was a disease that was almost unavoidable; therefore, there were probably many great artists/ writers whose work wasn’t able to see because their work never made it out. This disease created a drastic change in art and literature pre-plague to post-plague, creating a sense of realism and naturalism. It is odd to think that during such a horrid time, art and literature were able to grow, rise, and evolve to a point no one would think of.

To understand the growth of art and literature during the Renaissance period, one must understand the context of both preliminary to the black death; as a matter of fact, “renaissance” actually means rebirth. During the late 13th and early 14th century or “proto-renaissance” period, “St. Francis had rejected the formal Scholasticism of the prevailing Christian theology and gone out among the poor praising the beauties and spiritual value of nature”(Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia). Though most works were still religious, rejecting the form of Christian theology in art and literature and trying to replace that form with the view of spiritual and human nature, this opened up a new world to writers and artists for vernacular writing, inner beauty of psychological characteristics of humankind, and view of the world instead of strict views and dogma of the Catholic Church. Artist Giotto di Bondone, poet Dante, as well as writers Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio all, belonged to the Proto period, all contributing to new styles of naturalism and humanism. Before these artists and writers broke off the linear path of art and literature, one can describe the art or literature to be very flat or unrealistic. This revival weakened the views of the Church and religion because writing and art spread humanism and realism; therefore, they were able to express a view of their own beliefs of the people and the world. However, the Black Death caused a lot of the growth of many studies and interest in forms explained above to be lost with the death of millions; moreover, some styles and forms reemerged again later during the plague and post-plague because the death influenced many as well.

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Though the black death was such a catastrophe, the way it opened up artists and writers to new styles and forms is amazing; in addition, these writers and artists of the early renaissance period were able to tell their own story. Because people were dying left and right across Europe, this allowed for realism to prosper; therefore, research portrays, “The dreadful trauma of this era instigated the imaginations of writers and painters in worrying and unsettling ways for decades to follow. The insecurity of daily survival created an atmosphere of gloom and doom influencing artist to move away from optimistic themes and turn to images of Hell, Satan and the Grim Reaper”(The Effect of the Black Death on Medieval Artists and Art.). During the time of the plague, artists wanted to capture the realism of what was going on in the world, taking a clear turn of religion and expressing the death of the people with beauty. Since people thought this was the end of the world, saying it was “God’s punishment” made the people of the end and the worst to come as if there was nothing to prosper out of this situation. The plague allowed for art and literature to tell a story with the main point ending in death; therefore, artists and writers were able to express within these lines. Through this period of time, there was no way to escape the death and trauma of the plague; therefore, that is why art and literature were expressed in such a way, but during the next period of time art and literature took another route.

Another key time period significant to art was the High Rennisance Era, which another different styles had flourished for about 35 years; furthermore, these artists and writers showed the beauty and love of the world. (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia) Though the black death was a catastrophic point in time, the plague was explained as horrid with beauty; incidentally, research displays, “despite the growing realism being achieved in their art, High Renaissance artists aspired to beauty, and harmony more than realism. Their paintings may have been based on nature but they had no interest in mere replication. Instead, they looked for the ultimate truth in a study of the classical world of Greek and Roman culture”(Italian High Renaissance Period). This type of art was considered “high renaissance art,” which explains the realism in the art and literature because it was less about the church and more about the beauty of loves of the people. Artists and writers were able to explain with art, sculptures, music, and words of the plague, and were able to describe in depth with a heavy description of death by beauty and love. Some of the most significant artists and writers of this time that contributed to the beauty of the black death were Marsilio Ficino, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donato Bramante, Raphael, and William Shakespeare. The people viewed this as the end of the world, so artists and writers had to capture the beauty and love of the world with the plague; however, some fell off because they could not put the beauty and the plague together. (The Effect of the Black Death on Medieval Artists and Art.) Their idea of humanism was in a sense drifting away from religion with the importance of man. (Italian High Renaissance Period) However, their type of realism has almost considered a perfection with creating their view of the perfect human as well as being able to accept your own life in literature. Giving the fact that the plague wiped out most of the population, it still let art and literature grow to the point where it was at, so it was these people illuminated beauty by death.

Throughout these years of the Black Death, art and literature were able to flourish so much during this era, so many styles and forms changed, appeared, disappeared all in a span of so many years. These forms and styles were broken off the linear scale by those who had the courage to do something that was not strict to the religious and orthodox form of art and literature. Without the tragic death of many, artists and writers would not have been given the idea to paint, write, or sculpt the beauty and horrific point that the plague gave the world. Being able to develop the realism, naturalism, and humanism that the world has in its art and literature today helped develop art and literature to where it is today. The research and interest they had and did helped shape the way the world was and helps us the people get a glimpse of what the world was like in that point in time.

Work Cited

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Renaissance Art.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 July 2017, www.britannica.com/art/Renaissance-art.
  2. “Italian High Renaissance Period (C.1490-1530).” American Gothic, Grant Wood: Analysis, www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/high-renaissance.htm.
  3. “The Effect of the Black Death on Medieval Artists and Art.” Influences of Japanese Prints on Late Nineteenth and Early 19th Century French Painters, www.historyofpainters.com/black_death.htm.

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History of Black Death Disease. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from


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