Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on panel


A bleak landscape of death and destruction confronts the viewer. An army of skeletons massacres masses of people of every age and gender. At the top of the painting, the sky is black with smoke from fires that have destroyed the landscape, as if the land had been decimated by war. Ships lie half sunken in the bay. The middle of the painting features skeletons herding masses into a spike rimmed tunnel; the door of the tunnel is marked with the holy cross of Christ. There is no suggestion of salvation however, for piles of bones, skulls, and intact skeletons fill pens and wagons, and litter the ground. In the painting’s foreground, people of high social status are sprawled dead or dying near more ordinary individuals -- king, cardinal, wanderer, lovers -- all, regardless of their social status, meet Death.

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