About the Author

Christine holds an MA in Medieval and Renaissance art history from Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, as well as a Graduate certificate in Museum and Gallery Studies from Georgian College.

 

Originally from London Ontario, Christine has had the opportunity to live across Canada and abroad. She began her career at Dumfries Museum in Scotland, where she learned the importance of celebrating ones heritage. Christine joined the Mountain Galleries team in March of 2019, and she looks forward to using her experience and passion to support Canadian artists.

 

An avid hiker, she is thrilled to be living and working in Jasper among its beautiful scenery and vibrant culture.

Curated Articles by Christine:

Atlantic Medieval Association Conference

Christine de Brabandere

Assistant Curator &

Sales Associate

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge



Coronavirus and the Black Death: A Historian’s Perspective

 

In 2016 I submitted my master’s thesis entitled “Governing the Dead: An Examination of Burial and Identity in English Black Death Cemeteries.” In it I argued that due to the increase in mortality, English authorities were forced to adapt new burial practices which affected medieval mentalities for years to come. When I announced my thesis topic there were several of my peers that found it to be irrelevant. They were all studying Canadian history, and I was one of only three students majoring in medieval studies. With the recent outbreak of Covid-19 however, I feel my thesis is becoming more and more relevant, as there have been several similarities between the two pandemics. It should be noted however, that while there are some similarities between the Black Death and Covid-19, these similarities are primarily in how the disease has spread from country to country, and how the world is reacting to it. The Black Death was significantly more contagious and more deadly, with an estimated 25-50 million people succumbing to it between the years of 1346 to 1353. 

'The Triumph of Death'   16th Century painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

An element that makes Covid-19 so upsetting is that it is new. As of right now no one has developed a vaccine for it. This is similar to what the medieval people felt with the Black Death. No one knew what the disease was, or what caused it. In fact, scholars today still don’t know for sure what the Black Death was, although there are several credible theories. The most popular being a disease called “Yersinia Pestis.” Which was spread by fleas that had bitten infected rats. The suspected origins of the plague also parallels Covid -19’s origins. Yersinia Pestis likely originated from marmots in the Asian Steppes, and Covid-19 is thought to have started with a bat. I am not an epidemiologist, so I won’t attempt to explain the intricacies of biology and the spread of infectious diseases. I only bring this up to highlight my point that there are many striking similarities between what we are going through today, and what people were experiencing seven hundred years ago. 

'Three Living Dead'

 Authorities in Western Europe heard about the spread of a new, deadly disease and put measures in place to stop it. Cities closed their gates, others made ships wait in the harbour for days before they would allow them to dock and unload their goods. (Fun fact: In Italy they made ships wait for forty days before allowing them to dock. The Italian word for forty is “quaranta” and this is where we get the term quarantine from.) We are seeing this same practice today, with cities all over the world going into lockdown. It is a nerve- wracking time now, just as it would have been back in the fourteenth century. I have often joked that “at least we have Instagram and Twitter to pass the time.” Which is true. A major difference between us now and the medieval people is that we have the luxury of communicating with family and friends around the world. Although it’s not the same as having them in the same room with us, at least we have the chance to connect and send funny pictures. Social media wasn’t really a thing in the medieval period (unless you count carrier pigeons).

 The initial outbreak of the plague ended in approximately 1353, and not surprisingly, the plague was a major influence for artists, and it featured quite heavily in their work. “The Dance of Death” and the “Triumph of Death” were popular themes in Renaissance art and emphasized that death affects people of all social statuses. Many manuscripts from the fourteenth and fifteenth century included the morality tale “The Three Living and The Three Dead”, which depicts three men of high social standing being confronted by their future ghosts. The message being: even the wealthiest die, so be sure to live well and be kind. This message continued through the centuries and can be seen in Pieter Breugel the Elder’s sixteenth century painting “The Triumph of death”. While death continued to be the hot topic of the century, it was not all macabre. Artists also stressed the importance of living life and enjoying it to the fullest. Even though the plague kept returning and many famous artists either lived through the plague, or worked in its shadow, the art created during this time reflects the tenacity of the human spirit. The Renaissance highlights some of the greatest achievements of European civilization. Whether it was the creation of paintings, literature, architecture, and advancements in science and medicine, it is oddly reassuring to think all of these achievements occurred in the shadow of a pandemic.

Botticelli's Primavera 1470-1480

Humans are resilient. Despite the obstacles that are thrown our way, we have always found a way to carry on. Whether it is through telling a joke, singing a song, or creating a piece of art, history has shown us that we can find the joy in life. Covid-19 has created an odd connection between us and our medieval ancestors. Through this connection we can begin to understand how humans have survived through, and been motivated by, stressful situations, while finding a bit of inspiration and hope along the way.

 

 

 

Written by Christine De Brabandere, Assistant Curator, Mountain Galleries Banff.

 

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