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.