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This paper was part of the 2013-2014 Penn Humanities Forum on Violence. Find out more at


Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Triumph of Death (Prado, Madrid) has received relatively little scholarly attention for obvious reasons: its rampant annihilation of humanity and dour pessimism bear little resemblance to his more typical representations of peasants and folly with humanist, satirical undertones. Perhaps even more puzzling than this disjuncture is its eerie combination of eschatology within a fully earthly apocalypse. To reconcile these paradoxes, we must analyze Bruegel's formal and iconographic links with Hieronymus Bosch and earlier Netherlandish visual traditions amidst contemporary, religious, and political struggles during the nascent Dutch Revolt. This enigmatic Bruegel picture suggests the complex—and violent—relationships among death, earth, hell, and general humanity during an era marked by ferocious conflict and merciless punishment.


Bruegel the Elder



Date Posted: 17 November 2016