Thomas W. Worcester

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The most famous European visitation of plague was the fourteenth-century epidemic often called the Black Death. But plague recurred in waves for many centuries. In the seventeenth century, Italy suffered several devastating outbreaks. Fairly accurate estimates of the losses during that period are available through extant records. For example, in 1656, over 100,000 people died of plague in Naples. Strange to imagine, this carnage coincided with the religious Counter Reformation and the extraordinary artistic output of the Baroque.

This intriguing collection of essays analyzes the effect of plague on painting, and assesses the utility of artwork as a source for the religious and social history. The essays concentrate on the cities that suffered major epidemics, such as Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome, and Venice, and on portrayals of particular "plague saints," such St Roch, St Sebastien, St Carlo Borromeo, St Rosalie of Palermo and St Luigi Gonzaga. The artists include Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Crespi, Sweets, Canaletto, and Van Dyck.

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