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The Unexpected Consolation: The Bubonic Plague in Western Europe and the Visualization of Pain from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century

  • The Journal of Aesthetics and Science of Art
  • Abbr : JASA
  • 2023, 69(), pp.6-31
  • DOI : 10.17527/JASA.69.0.01
  • Publisher : 한국미학예술학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Other Arts and Kinesiology
  • Received : April 12, 2023
  • Accepted : May 13, 2023
  • Published : June 30, 2023

Yu Na Han 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

After the outbreak of the Black Death, pictorial representations of the pain caused by the plague became increasingly popular, the zenith of which was between the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. These images have attracted scholarly attention mainly as historical records describing the symptoms of the disease and its medical treatments. The goal of the present study, however, is to demonstrate that they played an “unexpected” role in comforting contemporary viewers: for those who were already contaminated, the images gave shape to their current pain, while for the noninfected, they materialized the fear of possible infection and the following pain. Here, the images can be understood as “objectified pain” in Elaine Scarry’s term, allowing an otherwise inexpressible inner state to be communicated to the external world, and thereby offering emotional catharsis. In the images of pain, the viewers also discovered the fact that they were not alone in suffering ― a crucial mechanic of consolation particularly emphasized by modern practices of bibliotherapy. Lastly, adopting Aby Warburg’s ideas, these images are to be considered as a kind of Pathosformel embodying Europeans’ efforts in the age of the bubonic plague to sublimate the inexplicable crisis as well as to orient themselves in that chaotic world.

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