BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
(b. ca. 1525, Brogel, d. 1569, Brussel)

The Triumph of Death (detail)

c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid

For all men and women, however exalted their status on earth, there is no escape from the army of Death, which advances inexorably across Bruegel's burning landscape. This detail is crammed with a multitude of striking and horrifying individual images: the boat of death carrying its grisly cargo of skeletons draped in their winding-sheets and with skulls at the port-holes; the wagon-load of skulls and bones pulled along by an emaciated horse ridden by a skeleton tolling a bell and carrying a lamp. A second skeleton parodies human happiness by playing a hurdy-gurdy while the wheels of his car crush a man. A woman has fallen in the path of the death cart; she holds in her hand a spindle and distaff, classical symbols of the fragility of human life. The slender thread is about to be cut by the scissors in her other hand. Just below her a cardinal is helped towards his fate by a skeleton who mockingly wears the red hat, while a dying king's barrel of gold coins is looted by a skeleton.