Sixteenth century Europe saw many plagues and pestilences, but none as devastating as Humanoid Spongiform Encephalopathy (HSE), popularly known as Mad Human Disease. Believed to be spread by the cannibalistic practices widespread during and after the Black Death of Paris in mid-century, the symptoms included gradually increasing moodiness and hostility towards livestock, followed in the later stages of the disease by physical attacks upon cattle. Although it affected both sexes with equal frequency, this figurine represents a woman viciously attacking a surprised horse.
The piece shown is a bronze casting that was no doubt used as a mold to cast inexpensive clay replicas for the peasantry, which could be set up before a blessed candle in a church or chapel, either as a request for Divine assistance in relieving the sufferings of a victim, or as a symbolic thanks-offering in the case of a cure.
Votive Figure Representing One Afflicted by Mad Human Disease
European, 16th century CE
12 cm ~ bronze