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6 / Death

Triumph of Death
Triumph of Death
Artist / Origin Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, c. 1525–1569)
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1562
Material Oil on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 46 in. (117 cm.), W: 63.8 in. (162 cm.)
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Credit Courtesy of Art Resource/Photo by Erich Lessing

expert perspective

Larry SilverProfessor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

Triumph of Death

» Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, c. 1525–1569)

expert perspective

Larry Silver Larry Silver Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

The image that really does make me think about my own mortality is an image by Pieter Bruegel called The Triumph of Death. And what’s terrifying is the fact that it’s so crowded. There are so many skeletal figures, there are so many humans, but they are dwarfed in numbers and they are being overrun by the skeletons. And a picture like that puts fear into you, in a way that some of these other images might have done for people. But there is a certain charm in the variety of figures, and costumes, a certain charm in seeing the different compositions of the skeleton with a different character that takes a little of the aura of fear, the shudder, away from the experience; that’s an overpowering sense of mortality.

The figures in the Bruegel picture are actually relatively small, each one. The picture itself is about the span of two hands separated. So it’s a picture that you can really get up close to and get into and as a picture itself, it’s a pretty good-sized framed work in Madrid. So that it has this double effect, too, of luring you in to contemplate those details and then overwhelming you with the sheer number of skeletons that confront you.” 

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