16. The Black Death Changed Music, Literature, Art and Religion
Unsurprisingly, art and culture were both massively changed by the social upheaval that attended the loss of more than a third of Europe’s population. There was a strong sense of fatalism and merely waiting for the end of times during the 14th Century pandemic. This notion is reflected in the somber, morose tone of music, art, and literature created during the period. The Catholic Church also saw a loss of power during the chaos of the era, and the seeds were planted for the Protestant Reformation.
Art is, naturally, the easiest way to observe the cultural effects of the Black Death on the culture of the era. Death is frequently seen in pieces of the period, as in the famous illustration of dancing skeletons. Death stalked Europeans every day during the period, so it is unsurprising to see representations of that constant presence in their art. The music shifted during the period as well, becoming more somber and focused on death and the hope for salvation.
Literature of the period also reflects the themes of death and fatalism. Many authors also served as chroniclers of the chaos and destruction of the pandemic. Writers like Boccaccio provided a window for future readers into daily life under the shadow of the Black Death. The intense religious thought of the period saw a weakening of the Catholic Church’s power, as it was unable to keep its faithful safe during the crisis. The perceived failures of the church during the period helped sow some of the unrest that would later erupt as the Protestant Reformation.