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2017 Beaux-Arts Marseille: Michel Serre 1721 Vue de l’Hôtel de Ville de Marseille pendant la Peste

Michel Serre: View of Marseille's town hall during the Plague of 1720, painted 1721

Michel Serre: View of Marseille’s town hall dur­ing the Plague of 1720, painted 1721.
Marseille is con­sidered the portal through which the Plague entered Western Europe and it was affected by it often and early and late. This is one of two sim­il­ar paint­ings by Serre – the oth­er shows an aven­ue sim­il­arly littered with crowds and corpses. Artistically this is as fas­cin­at­ing as Serre is fam­ous. From the hobby historian’s point of view it’s most inter­est­ing to see the atti­tudes towards the plague. As tempt­ing as it is to ima­gine a city truly rav­aged, with empty streets, eer­ie silence etc., in spite of the scourge life has always had to go on: Someone has to bury the dead, to go eat­ing and drink­ing, to feed and to water, to organ­ise and to watch and to rule, to ride around mer­rily and fight off the peas­ants that haven’t paid their due to the reap­er yet (lower right centre). Waiting till it’s over wasn’t an option, nor would it be now.