Hisham Matar on How the Black Death Changed Art Forever

By Hisham Matar
‘No thought is born in me which has not “Death” engraved upon it’ ... the ‘La Creazione’ fresco by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Photograph: Plinio Lepri/Associated Press
Before Italy became a nation, it was made up of a collection of city-states governed by un’autorità superior, in the form of a powerful noble family or a bishop. They took the Black Death as proof of their guilt. The speed of the Black Death was so staggering that in just over a year it had conquered the known medieval world, reducing the population of each country by an average of 45%. The religious fervour the Black Death inspired in Siena instilled a powerful commitment to the church. Barely seven years had passed when, in 1355, the city’s civic rule ended. The clergy now were the principal clients. They had a great deal of money and influence. They determined what was painted. [More]