The Triumph of Death (Palermo)

The Triumph of Death is a fresco in the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, southern Italy. It is considered one of the most representative works of the late Gothic painting in Italy. The author of the work, which is dated around 1446, is unknown.

The Triumph of Death
Trionfo della morte, già a palazzo sclafani, galleria regionale di Palazzo Abbatellis, palermo (1446) , affresco staccato.jpg
Yearc. 1446
Dimensions600 cm × 642 cm (240 in × 253 in)
LocationPalazzo Abatellis, Palermo


The work comes from the court of Palazzo Sclafani, also in Palermo. Due to its highly refined style, it is thought to have been commissioned directly by the Aragonese Kings of Naples, probably to a Catalan or Provençal artist. The theme of the "Triumph of Death" was already widespread in Europe during the 14th century, but here is represented with a particular stress on macabre and grotesque themes characterized by a cruel appearance, all features rare in Italy. Names proposed for the author include Guillaume Spicre from Bourgogne.

The fresco was stripped and divided into four parts to be housed in the Regional Gallery, where it is now located. Though at the time of the removal the work was in good condition, gradually during the 20th century the painted surface has detached near the points of division, compromising the integrity of the scene.


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.


  • De Vecchi, Pierluigi; Elda Cerchiari (1999). I tempi dell'arte. Milan: Bompiani.