bruegel painting with triumphant skeletons
The Triumph of Death is an oil panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted c. 1562.  It has been in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1827. 
In the bottom right-hand corner a musician who plays a lute while his lady sings; both are oblivious to the fact that behind both of them, a skeleton that plays along is grimly aware that the couple can not escape their inevitable doom. A cross sits in the centre of the painting. The painting shows aspects of everyday life in the mid-sixteenth century, when the risk of plague was very severe. Clothes are clearly depicted, as are pastimes such as playing cards and backgammon. It shows objects such as musical instruments, an early mechanical clock, scenes including a funeral service, and various methods of execution, including the breaking wheel, the gallows, burning at the stake, and the headsman about to behead a victim who has just taken wine and communion. In one scene a human is the prey of a skeleton-hunter and his dogs. In another scene, a man with a grinding stone around his neck is about to be thrown into the pond by the skeletons—an echoing of Matthew 18.6 and Luke 17.2.
Bruegel’s wife Mayken gave birth to two boys, Pieter, in 1564, and Jan, in 1568. He died the following year, aged around 40. Both sons became painters. In 1597 (or possibly later) Jan painted a copy of THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH. This passed within a hundred years into the collection of Prince Eggenberg of Austria, and it can be seen in his castle in Graz, today. There is a second copy, probably by Jan, and a third, by Pieter the Younger, both in private collections, invisible to us.
The upper left section shows skeletons ringing bells and digging up a coffin. The distant horizon glows with red and black smoke.
The painting shows a landscape of death. The scenery is bleak and dead, with no life blooming in any form. There are fires burning in the background and an army of skeletons are taking apart everything.
His works were usually based on religious themes, lifestyle of the peasants, or proverbs that were popular at the time.
This scene in many respects resembles the apocalyptic vision of the end of the world described by Saint John. According to it, in the last days the land is to be mastered by four destroying horsemen that are: Conquest, War, Hunger and Death. In the woodcut made by Albrecht Dürer, the riders were shown in a gallop, trampling all those who stood in their way. However, they are led by an angel, which means that the destruction they carry is in accordance with the divine plan and promises salvation that can take place during the Last Judgment. Then the dead are to be re-called to life, and their deeds will be judged justly by Christ as the supreme judge. In the paintings with this topic, death is only a moment of transition into the waiting for salvation or condemnation. The dead will either follow the demons to hell or are brought into the Kingdom of Heaven, where eternal life awaits them.
However, there is nothing of dignity in death in the Bruegel’s painting. It is full of fury acts of cruelty placed in a vast land demolished with conflagration. The figures are swirling everywhere, the fierce battle between people and the legions of skeletons takes place. The death they inflict is violent, brutal and merciless. Everyone is killed, regardless of age, condition or property. At the increasing sounds of the drum, which is furiously struck by the skeleton, the living are sent to the wagon (disturbingly similar to the stock-car), and all the escape routes are cut off.
Among those depicted, there are both rich and poor. Some attempt to struggle against the dark destiny that befell them while others are resigned to their fate. Only a pair of lovers, located at the lower right, manages to keep their calm in face of the fate they too will have to suffer, looking away from all the tragedy going on around them.
Today, The Triumph of Death hangs at The Museo del Prado in Madrid, directly across from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Since Bruegel was viewed by his contemporaries as “the second Bosch”, these two paintings make for suitable companions.