“The triumph of death”: What is the secret of Bruegel’s painting, which has been shaking the minds and imagination of people for almost 500 years?
There are paintings in the history of painting that leave a deep imprint on a person’s entire life — it’s worth seeing at least once. Impressions of what he saw seemed to penetrate the subconscious and for a long time excite the soul and make you think. Such a work, of course, is the “Triumph of Death” by Peter Bruegel, who erased the line between the realm of the dead and the world of the living, clearly showing the omnipotence of Death and the helplessness of man.
The painter of the late Renaissance of the Netherlands entered the history of art as a magnificent master who was able to bring together the trends of the Renaissance and the traditional Dutch art, creating his own unforgettable world in his works.
Bruegel witnessed how the Inquisition cruelly rampant in the middle of the 16th century in the Netherlands. Then the armed detachments of the Spanish troops, carrying out a punitive mission, led by the Catholic fanatic Alba, “fire and sword” marched through the territory of their northern colony, trying to suppress the popular uprising. In this way, Spain attempted to exterminate the Protestantism that was born there. In the provinces where the Spaniards went, there was burned earth and piles of corpses, estimated at tens of thousands.
The king of Spain, Philip II, being an ardent Catholic, declared: “I would rather sacrifice one hundred thousand lives than stop persecuting the heretics!” In terrible fear and hopelessness, the country is mired. Under such an incredibly terrible impression from the events taking place, Peter Bruegel created in about 1562 one of the most sinister and at the same time the most amazing of his creations – “The Triumph of Death”. For nearly five centuries this canvas of the master makes an indelible impression on the public and makes one more time think about the inevitability of the deathbed.
In his picture, the artist created the eerie “eulogy” of Death. For the first time, after seeing this dramatic canvas in its content, you get a considerable shock. Something incomprehensible and ominous opens up to the eye: many skeletons and skulls, already dead and beating in the agony of people torn to pieces and preparing for execution, as well as feasting and trying to resist.
And only by looking at this unimaginable creation of human hands, a centimeter by centimeter, one can penetrate and understand what the author intended and what he wanted to bring to the consciousness of contemporaries and descendants.
The viewer has a huge panoramic view of a monstrous landscape, resembling a scorched desert, where barren land is littered with posts with wheels of torture and gallows in the glow of fires. And on the very horizon line one can see the shallowed sea with sinking ships. The high horizon line gave the artist an opportunity to expand the ominous picture of what is happening below – on the ground.
The burnt desert everywhere is filled in abundance with various torture facilities and executions. They are actively used by the warriors of death to exterminate their victims.
Huge symbolic and compositional meaning is Death itself, uniting everything that happens around itself. As we see, in the picture, Death is an image of a skeleton with a scythe, famously jumping on a bony horse right into the thick of events. The horseman of the apocalypse leads the hordes of his troops. He is triumphant, seeing as the “dance of death” unfolds.
The hordes of skeletons, hiding behind the lids of the coffins, like shields, created a barrier for the crowd, which Death is driving into a huge, open coffin, something like a mousetrap. No one can get away from her, she will distort everyone with her scythe — kings, and cardinals, card cheats and merchants, peasants and knights, women and children. She will stop at no one and all.
Death overtakes the heroes of the picture everywhere: in a mass slaughter and duel, at work, at a meal and even on a love date. From nowhere you can not hide, from her there is no salvation. She is omnipresent. Literally everyone appears before the face of Death as an impotent grain of sand in a whirlwind funnel, where sooner or later it will be drawn. Everyone is beginning to understand that death awaits everyone, regardless of status and position.
In the lower left part of the canvas, the artist wrote a figure in the royal mantle. The monarch is clearly already in agony – his time is numbered. Death had already looked into his eyes, and now she is concerned only with the gold lying next to the king. She knows for sure what price it was produced.