The Triumph of Death

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This article is about the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. For the painting attributed to Buonamico Buffalmacco, see Buonamico Buffalmacco.
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The Triumph of Death

The Triumph of Death is an oil on panel, approximately 117 by 162 centimeters, painted c. 1562 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It currently hangs in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The painting is a panoramic deathscape: armies of skeletons advance on the hapless living, slitting throats, hauling a wagon full of skulls, and ringing the bell that signifies the death knell of the world. A fool plays the lute while a skeleton behind him plays along; a starving dog nibbles at the face of a child; a skeleton lays his bony hand on the head of a fallen king; a cross sits lonely and impotent in the center of the painting.

Unlike his predecessor, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist who painted the Hellscape called The Garden of Earthly Delights, Brueghel's hordes are composed of skeletons, not demons, suggesting a distinctly atheistic pessimism, and one untempered by any belief in Heaven.

It has been suggested that the painting was inspired by the worsening political climate before the Eighty Years' War (started in 1568), although the painting itself predates this war. Another interpretation is that the painting is an allegorical depiction of the horrors of war, much like his Mad Meg (Dulle Griet in Dutch), also painted around 1562.

In the novel Underworld, contemporary American author Don Delillo depicts J. Edgar Hoover as fascinated with this particular painting.

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