The Black Death, Turks, locusts. It was tough staying alive in the medieval world.
A.D. 1480 was – to put it mildly – not a good year for Graz. Barbarians were at the gates of the city, locusts had decimated the harvest, and bubonic plague was stalking the streets. Death was only a flea bite away.
By the end of the year, 80% of residents had been felled by disease and famine or carted away to slavery in the Ottoman Empire. For a time, God had abandoned Styria.
The Landplagenbild (Picture of Plagues) Fresco
Five years later, the stricken survivors commissioned the master painter Thomas von Villach to commemorate the year of the plagues on the outside of the Dom.
Sketch of the Top 2 Sections
1. The three scourges are arranged in sequence at the bottom. Locusts of horrific proportions swoop down on victims, plague corpses are bundled into coffins, and Turkish soldiers wind their way past the city (the oldest preserved view of medieval Graz).
2. Watching over this carnage are the human representatives of God – clergymen, secular leaders, the Pope, Saint Francis, and Saint Dominic. (Saint Francis is the one in my photo.)
3. Above them, at the top, are the divinities – angels, archangels, John the Baptist, Mary mother of God, and the Holy Trinity. Within this rigid structure, religious order is restored.
That is the theory, at least. Viewed today, the fresco feels less like an agonized plea for mercy and more like an expression of bewildered rage. “Oh God, why has thou forsaken me?”
Cautionary Note: To protect the fragile surface, the city has sheathed the fresco in glass. I’ve played around with the saturation and the light in this picture to highlight the details. The original is quite faded.