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16 Morbid Fascination: Death by Bruegel

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Chapter Summary

Most frequently, Pieter Bruegel's imagery is compared to late medieval depictions of the Dance of Death or related themes, such as the Three Living and Three Dead, in which the living are paired, even confronted, one-on-one with their skeletal avatars, often dressed in the same role-revealing garments. In relation to those traditions, this chapter interrogates the role of Death-personified multiply rather than as a single personification-in the forms of Bruegel's skeletons, to consider how his active, hostile anthropomorphism alters the medieval Christian concept of Death and dying. Though Bruegel's figures lack the separate spatial settings of Holbein's individual woodcuts, many of the same figures reappear across the foreground of the Triumph of Death, with their own poses echoed by a skeletal companion. Certainly the Triumph of Death marks a departure form earlier personified representations of the theme of death and from Bruegel's allegories of Virtues and Vices for Hieronymus Cock.

Keywords: anthropomorphism; medieval Christian; Pieter Bruegel's imagery; Triumph of Death



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