Patients' ward at the Lazzaretto Vecchio, a hospital that quarantined and treated plague victims from its foundation in 1423 through the 17th century.

Graduate student Jennifer Gear specializes in Venetian art of the early modern period, with a focus on artistic production spurred by the 16th- and 17th-century plague epidemics. Last June she went to Italy to conduct dissertation research at, among other places, the former Venetian plague hospital called the Lazzaretto Vecchio. During this trip she took the photograph above, showing one of the sick wards at this hospital, which was devoted solely to treating patients who had contracted plague. Here the sick were treated and contaminated materials and goods were aired and disinfected. This specialized hospital was one of two that the city maintained from the 15th to the 18th centuries.It inhabits its own isolated island about two miles southeast across the lagoon from the Doge's Palace at the city center.

The Lazzaretto Vecchio fell into disuse after plague epidemics died out in Europe, and it was abandoned entirely in the 19th century. Archaeologists only recently began to cut back the vegetation that had overtaken the island, so that they could excavate the remaining artifacts and protect the crumbling architecture. The island has been open to the public for the past two years, if only on a very limited basis. Jennifer was able to visit and examine the remaining architecture, the little-studied wall paintings, and the graffiti left by patients in the 16th and 17th centuries.