Painted on the side of the Oratorio dei Disciplini in Clusone, Italy, is a haunting mural that celebrates the capricious nature of death.
Painted by Giacomo Borlone de Burchis in the 15th century, the art expresses the sentiments of an ancient Christian brotherhood who focused on death and burial as a holy experience. Wearing rather terrifying burial hoods and garments the brotherhood would perform elaborate funerary rituals on the eligible dead. The Oratorio acted as their meeting place.
The morbid fresco on the wall of the Oratorio, entitled “The Triumph of Death,” is divided into a number of scenes. Displayed in the upper portion is the titular “Triumph.” Death is represented as a crowned skeleton queen swinging scrolls in both hands, with two fellow skeletons at her side killing people with a bow and an ancient harquebus. Around her, a group of powerful, but desperate, people are offering valuables and begging for mercy, but Death is not interested in mundane wealth, she only wants the lives of the owners. Beneath her feet there is a marble coffin where the corpses of an emperor and a pope rest surrounded by poisonous animals, symbols of a fast and merciless end. A painted scroll above the scene states that only those who have offended God will suffer a painful death, while those who followed a righteous path will pass to a different, better life.
The lower portion of the fresco shows the Dance Macabre, with several characters from different social classes walking with skeletons to join the fatal dance of death.
Unfortunately, time and human hands have caused portions of the mural to fall away, but the remaining brightly colored paints and their Draconian message refuse to die.
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