With the onslaught of the Bubonic Plague, artists saw openings for change in their profession. The people of Europe began worshiping at home due to fear of going out into public. This produced a need for small altars and images to be used for worshiping at home. In addition, artists began intricate carvings for the tops of coffins – often a likeness of the deceased one contained within the box. Prior to the Plague, most commissions were from the Church or church officials, to be completed within strict guidelines given to the artist by the Church. The new sources of commissions provided artists with a bit more freedom or artistic license in their work. Artists began to experiment with new techniques and materials with which to paint.
Prior to the Plague, the people of Europe also experienced years of hunger and hardship brought on by severe famine and coupled with the harsh realities of the deadliest epidemic ever known to man caused many people to plummet into the darkness of depression. Artists, also affected by the mental condition, began to openly depict the death and destruction of the Plague in their work. Considering psychotherapy and Prozac were yet to be discovered, I would believe that painting must have provided a needed release for the despair that threatened to envelope the artists of the time. Jewish artists must have bore the brunt of the hardship, as the Plague brought death to their people, but also a great deal of discrimination and persecution. (when you can’t explain something just blame the odd man out…) These artists were forced to find work within their religious community.