Triumph of death, Campo Santo Pisa

(1330s)
   A fresco of huge proportions attributed to Francesco Traini, though some have suggested that the work is by Buonamico Buffalmacco, a Florentine master active in 1315-1336. The panoramic view offered by the scene is closely tied to Pietro Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-1339; Siena, Palazzo Pubblico), yet the atmosphere here is of death and desolation appropriate to the fresco's setting—the Campo Santo, an enclosed cemetery attached to the Cathedral of Pisa considered sacred because, according to legend, it contains dirt brought from the Holy Land. In the fresco, aristocratic youths on horseback come across three decomposing corpses. The women turn away in horror, while one of the men holds his nose in a traditional gesture of decay. To the left, an old hermit unrolls a scroll that proclaims the foolishness of those who engage in pleasure and of the inevitability of death. To the right, men and women in an orange grove occupy themselves with music to sooth their anxieties over the temporality of life, while next to them angels and demons struggle for souls over a pile of corpses. The fresco was badly damaged during World War II and had to be detached from the wall, revealing the sinopie underneath. These show an energy of rendering and spontaneity lacking in the final scene.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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