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HIS 8 - Black Death: Art

1347 - 1351 The plague that reduced the world population

Beware many artistic images of the plague are not historically accurate

The Black Plague was not the first or last plague that Europe suffered. Many of the painted images are of later plagues. The paintings from the 1300 depict the social situation rather than images of the disease.

Medieval song


A Medieval Song about the Plague

"A sickly season," the merchant said,
"The town I left was filled with dead,
and everywhere these queer red flies
crawled upon the corpses' eyes,
eating them away."

"Fair make you sick," the merchant said,
"They crawled upon the wine and bread.
Pale priests with oil and books,
bulging eyes and crazy looks,
dropping like the flies."

"I had to laugh," the merchant said,
"The doctors purged, and dosed, and bled;
"And proved through solemn disputation
"The cause lay in some constellation.
"Then they began to die."

"First they sneezed," the merchant said,
"And then they turned the brightest red,
Begged for water, then fell back.
With bulging eyes and face turned black,
they waited for the flies."

"I came away," the merchant said,
"You can't do business with the dead.
"So I've come here to ply my trade.
"You'll find this to be a fine brocade..."

And then he sneezed.

Burning of the Jews

Another image from the 1340s shows Jews, who were blamed for the Black Death, being burned alive in what is now Switzerland and Germany.

In this history book written in the 1340s by the French chronicler and poet Gilles li Muisis, residents of a town stricken by the plague burn Jews, who were blamed for causing the disease.

Royal Library of Belgium

Psalter 1349


Fig. 1  Pages with Three Living (left) and Three Dead (right), from the Psalter and Book of Hours of Bonne of Luxemburg. ca. before 1349 (Sayer, 2008)

From book written 1340

One scene, in book written in the 1340s by a man named Gilles li Muisit, shows a scene of people carrying coffins of those who died during the Black Death.


This is one of the earliest known images of the plague. Drawn in 1349, during the time of the Black Death, it shows people carrying coffins of those who died of the illness in Tournai, a city in what is now Belgium.

UIG via Getty Images


Scene of the plague in Florence. Scene of the plague in Florence. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)