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The Sinister Book. The Plague in Bergamo, 1914

Leopold Museum,
India ink, pen and watercolor on cadastral paper
31.5×19.5 cm


  • Alfred Kubin

    (Leitmeritz/Litoměřice 1877–1959 Zwickledt)

Unfortunately not on display at the moment
The steeply rising road flanked by medieval houses at the heart of the city of Bergamo in northern Italy seems almost tranquil – if it were not for the naked corpses on the cobblestones. Between them, we see stray dogs as well as countless carrion crows sitting on dead bodies or circling over the silent settlement, which seems almost frozen. On the right we see a patrician house with a protruding roof and a characteristic rain gutter. Our gaze slides up to the three arcades obliquely marking the slope. Behind them, further medieval stone houses seem to cower together. The terrifying atmosphere is intensified by the contrasts of light and dark and the harsh incoming light, which breaks the prevailing ashen darkness to illuminate the facades and, in glaring stripes, partly reveals the horrible events in the narrow streets. Alfred Kubin (1877–1959) uses compact pen strokes of India ink and delicate watercolors to illustrate a nightmarish scene from Jens Peter Jacobsen’s (1847–1885) novella The Plague in Bergamo, published in 1914. The book recounts the pandemic which had claimed the lives of a third of the population of Europe within a few short years in the middle of the 14th century and had raged disastrously in Bergamo.

Object data

  • Alfred Kubin
The Sinister Book. The Plague in Bergamo
Art movement
Graphic work
India ink, pen and watercolor on cadastral paper
31.5×19.5 cm
Signed lower right: AKubin; designated lower left: Das unheimliche Buch. Die Pest in Bergamo
Credit line
Leopold Museum, Vienna, Inv. 902
Inventory access
Contributed to the Leopold Museum-Privatstiftung in 1994

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Provenance research
Leopold Museum i
Dr. Rudolf Leopold, Wien (o.D.);
Leopold Museum-Privatstiftung, Wien (1994).

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