The Triumph of Death

The Triumph of Death is a mid-14th century fresco representing the deadly effects of a medieval epidemic, probably of plague. The fresco was originally located in the old Ospedale Grande e Nuovo, now Palazzo Sclafani, in Palermo. After World War 2, the fresco was removed and placed in its current location, the old chapel of Palazzo Abatellis, the Gallery of Art for the Sicilian Region.


The author of the work, which is dated around 1446, is unknown. "The fresco is composed as a large miniature, where in a luxurious garden surrounded by a hedge, Death enters riding a skeletal horse, firing arrows from a bow. Death aims at characters belonging to all social levels, killing them.


The horse occupies the centre of the scene, with its ribs visible and an emaciated head showing teeth and the tongue.


Death has just released an arrow, which has hit a young man in the lower right corner; Death also wears a scythe at the side of the saddle, its typical attribute.


On the lower part are corpses of the people previously killed: emperors, popes, bishops, friars (both Franciscans and Dominicans), poets, knights and maidens.


Each character is portrayed differently: some still have a grimace of pain on the face, while others are serene; some have their limbs dismembered on the ground, and others are kneeling after having been just struck by an arrow.


On the left is a group of poor people, invoking Death to stop their suffering, but being ignored. Among them, the figure looking towards the observer has been proposed as a possible self-portrait of the artist. On the right is a group of the nobles, shown as having no interest in the events, most of them continuing their activities. They include several musicians, richly dressed noblewomen and knights with fur clothes, as symbols of life and youth. A man has a hawk on his arm, and another is leading two hounds"1.

  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (September 2020)

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