Images of Plague and Pestilence: Iconography and Iconology

Christine M. Boeckl

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This interdisciplinary study on disease in a metaphysical context is the first general overview of plague art written from an art historical standpoint. (SCE&S 53)

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Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Vol. 53

Since the late fourteenth century, European artists created an extensive body of images in paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and other media about the horrors of disease and death, as well as hope and salvation. This interdisciplinary study on disease in a metaphysical context is the first general overview of plague art written from an art historical standpoint. The book selects masterpieces created by Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Poussin, and includes other minor works dating from the fourteenth to twentieth centuries. It highlights the most important innovative artistic works that originated during the Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation. This study of the changing iconographic patterns and their iconological interpretations opens windows to the past.

Christine M. Boeckl developed great expertise in the fascinating subject of plague imagery and made an important scholarly contribution to this field of study.

—Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., National Gallery of Art 

I know of no scholar who has done more to elucidate the meaning and the significance underlying plague imagery. Such paintings are not relegated to the periphery of the European tradition, having for several centuries provided subject matter for major commissions. Yet today the context in which these images were created has been largely lost. Dr. Boeckl has made a remarkable contribution in helping to recover that missing information and has helped us to see such old masters as Poussin and Rubens with new eyes.

—William Pressly, University of Maryland

Christine M. Boeckl sets rigorous parameters and targets the essence of a subject both abundant and yet neglected.

 —Jacqueline Brossollet, Pasteur Institute, Paris

 

Contents

Illustrations
Introduction

Medical Aspects of Bubonic Plague and Yersinia pestis Infections
Literary Sources of Plague Iconography
Visual Sources of Plague Iconography
The Black Death and Its Immediate Aftermath (1347–1500)
The Sixteenth-Century Renaissance (1500–1600)
The Tridentine World: Plague Paintings as Implementations of Catholic Reforms
Revival of Plague Themes and Modern Reverberations
Plague Imagery, Past and Future

Appendix: Plague Texts That Influenced Visual Art
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Scripture References

Authors

Christine M. Boeckl was born in Vienna, Austria, and studied art history and classical archaeology at the University of Vienna. She emigrated to the U.S. and received her PhD in the history of art from the University of Maryland. She is a professor emerita at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Reviews

Images of Plague and Pestilence is Boeckl’s personal statement, written in scholarly terms, of her experience of individual and communal heroism in the face of disaster. As such, it is a book worth reading for its academic and humanistic value.

CAA Reviews

Crossing the history of art with the history of medicine, Boeckl overviews various sources of plague iconography, interprets the meanings of plague images in a few significant paintings dating from the 14th to the 20th century, and highlights the most influential innovative artistic works that originated during the Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation.

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