The decomposition of the body was an everyday sight to most people living in cities that were struck harshly by the plague. The sculpture, Figure of Death From the Cemetery of the Innocents exemplifies an accurate expression of the decay of the body. In cemeteries, "Gravestones depict the disgustingly varied notion of the naked corpse, with crumpled hands and feet, gaping mouth, with worms writhing in the intestines." [1] This explicit recreation of the decaying process is what haunted the humanity of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The smell of decay in the streets at the time of the first outbreak of the plague was so intolerable that people had to carry scented objects with them to sniff while out. "People not infected did not shut themselves up, but went about, carrying flowers or scented herbs or perfumes in their hands, in the belief that it was an excellent thing to comfort the brain with such odors; for the whole air was infected with the smell of dead bodies, of sick persons and medicines." [2] The decomposition of corpses and earthly beauty drew attention to the human body and its temporary appearance and function. A materialistic spirit, the preoccupation with earthly possessions, was often in conflict with the sight of demise.




[1]  John Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages, (Chicago, 1996) p. 159.

[2] James Hurt and Brian Wilkie, ed., Literature of the Western World, (New York, 1992) p. 1832.