'Trionfo della Morte' – Palermo, Italy - Atlas Obscura

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'Trionfo della Morte'

Museo Regionale Abatellis

This uncanny fresco celebrating the "triumph of death" was split into four pieces to be moved to another museum. 


Il trionfo della morte (The Triumph of Death) is a 15th-century fresco stripped from its wall that now proudly stands in the Museo Regionale Abatellis. This painting is remarkable for its cruel depiction of death and its appearance, presenting the scene with a macabre and gothic taste. While the theme of death was already widespread in art from other parts of Europe at the time, these types of paintings were less common in Italy.

The fresco shows a lush garden, where rich and noble are surrounding a group of musicians playing close to a fountain. Like in a horror movie, Death is entering the scene and causes havoc. Death is presented as a skeleton riding a skeletal horse with a scythe on the back while firing arrows to rich and poor. On the bottom, already dead bishops and nobles are lying, killed by arrows. The corpses are already grayish and some of the deaths have the limbs dismembered (showing the attention of the painter for gruesome details). On the right, the rich are imperturbable to the massacre, while on the left the poor are praying and observing with fear the coming of Death.

Measuring approximately six meters tall and six meters across (20 feet by 20 feet), the massive painting originally stood in the court of Palazzo Sclafani. There is no documentation of the commissioning of the fresco, so its exact origins are somewhat of a mystery. The style of the work places it in the Gothic period, and it is thought to have been commissioned by the Aragonese Kings of Naples. The fresco was made by an unknown artist, likely from Catalunia or Provence.

In the 1940s, the fresco was detached from the wall and moved to the Regional Gallery of Sicily in the Palazzo Abatellis, where it remains today. Because of its size, the fresco was divided into four pieces to move, which led to some details being lost near the cut marks over time. Many of the pieces that chipped away have been restored, so visitors can still see each detail of this magnificent fresco.

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