Triumph of Death

Jan Brueghel the Elder

Photo: UMJ/N. Lackner

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625)

Triumph of Death, dat. 1597

Oil on canvas

Inv. no. 58

Triumph of Death


The ubiquity of death in times of need is a fundamental experience of the age. The Book of Revelation invokes the apocalypse and the Day of Judgment. The hour of the last judgment has struck. From his pallid steed, Death mows down his horrified victims with his scythe. No estate is spared, neither emperor nor cardinal, neither knight nor peasant: all are surprised by Death.


Brueghel mercilessly depicts the omnipotence of death, whose hordes drive a tormented humanity into a trap. References to this are the cart with the dead and the burning, town of hell populated by demons in the centre of the picture. The historical background of the painting is a conflict of faith: Spain’s war, waged with extreme brutality, against the Netherlands, which is striving for religious freedom. The dispute culminates in endless affliction and devastation. There is no sign of hope and redemption in this painting, Death alone is the victor.


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