Event—Adult Education

Arts of Dying: The Visual Culture of the Black Death in Medieval Europe

As a precaution to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Adult Education Seminars Program’s Fall 2020 term will continue to be held virtually. Virtual seminars meet via Zoom video conference and use email and Google Drive folders to share resources and communicate with instructors and participants. For more information about the Newberry’s virtual seminars and these tools, including a Zoom tutorial, please see our Virtual Seminars FAQ page. If you have questions about online learning, please feel free to reach out to seminars@newberry.org.

For more information about the Newberry’s response to COVID-19 please visit www.newberry.org/covid19.

Seminar Description

Between 1348 and 1352, approximately half the population of Europe was killed by the Black Death, a devastating plague that swept across the continent and returned episodically for another 150 years. This one-session seminar will explore the macabre themes and motifs that emerged before and after the wake of the plague, including the Dance of Death; the “Three Living and the Three Dead”; the Ars Moriendi; the introduction of transi, or cadaver tombs; and manuscript illustrations of the Office of the Dead. We will consider how the Black Death impacted funerary ritual, death preparation, and pastoral care in the late medieval period. We will find that despite the seriousness with which death and preparation for the afterlife were regarded in the Middle Ages, there was nevertheless a great deal of comic levity and silliness in much of the associated imagery.

One session. Registration – $40

Sarah Wilson holds a PhD in English from Northwestern University. Her research focuses on the literature and culture of late-medieval England, with a particular emphasis on mourning and the philosophy of consolation. Sarah is also a Program Coordinator in the Department of Public Engagement at the Newberry.

Materials List


  • There are no required materials for this seminar.

First Reading:

  • There is no reading assignment for this seminar.

Registration Information

Online registration opens at 9 am (CDT) on Tuesday, September 1st.

Please note: Due to COVID-19, the Adult Education Seminars staff is working remotely and will be unable to process registration over the phone. For more information about registration, including a guide to online registration, see our Registration Information page. Questions? Please contact seminars program staff via email at seminars@newberry.org.

We offer a 10% discount to members, seniors, and students.

This seminar has reached capacity. Please email seminars@newberry.org to be added to the wait list.

This seminar is part of the Newberry’s Adult Education Seminars Program. Learn more about registering for a seminar, program policies, or teaching a seminar.