TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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  Pieter Brueghel the Elder

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Pieter Brueghel the Elder
 
 
 
 
The Triumph of Death
 
 
 
A third picture in this series has gone down in art history under the title of The Triumph of Death (c. 1562). We encounter not brutish demons up to their mischief but skeletons using scythes to mow everyone down, be he a king or a card-player seeking to defend himself with his sword, a mercenary soldier or a pair of lovers making music all unsuspectingly. It is a landscape of death, with withered grass, dead trees, and the fires of Hell burning once again in the background. The living are fleeing into a box, the door of which bears a cross; given the manner in which the box has been painted and the door held open above, however, they are running into a trap. God does not appear anywhere. Any indication of resurrection and redemption is absent.
This is no picture for purposes of admonition and edification in church. Bruegel is following no Christian dogma. He probably executed the three pictures, which are of similar size, for an unknown private patron, in 1562. Their quality and richness of invention bear witness to Bruegel's familiarity with the world of demons. Moreover, the observer occasionally has the impression that Bruegel's demons are also present in places where the artist has painted not some metaphysical terrain of horror and terrible figures but the natural world of Netherlands villages, people and landscapes. Demons in our midst? Demons in our very beings, at least in some of Bruegel's figures.


The Triumph of Death
c. 1562

An apocalyptic vision, the skeletons of death mowing down the living with scythes, en masse or individually: resistance is useless. Trees and grass are withered; the fires of Hell blaze behind the hills, and the Christian promise of resurrection and redemption is absent.



The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562



The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562



The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562

 
 
 

The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562



The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562



The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562

It is pointless to draw one's sword against Death or to hide from him under the table; lovesongs are as useless as card games and earthly goods. Bruegel has portrayed the end of life in brutal fashion: it is never peaceful, always violent.

 
 
 

 
 
 
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