Poussin’s Plague at Ashdod

or the Suspended Theatre of Life

Nicolas Poussin, The Plague at Ashdod, 1630, oil on canvas, 148 cm × 198 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris (Courtesy of the Louvre)

Published in the Courtauldian on 9 June 2020

In these times of pandemic, as half of the world population is confined in their homes because of Covid-19, there has been a revived interest for literature around plague, notably Albert Camus’s La Peste that saw its sales surged. In Camus’s novel, the doctors that first notice unexplainable deaths are initially denied a say in the matter before news and fear spread fear like wildfire. This may sound strangely familiar and yet, one can go back further in history and find such similarities. When the plague hit Florence in 1630, its elite swiftly fled to their villas, an idea that brings to mind all the city-dwellers who queued in their cars to reach their second homes before the lockdown was officially announced. 

Why are we drawn to such comparison? 

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