The Triumph of Death was a widespread image starting from the late Middle Ages and has its origins in Franco-Germanic territory. Often connected to the theme of the Last Judgement, it carries a taste for the macabre that will characterize the years to follow, up until the Black Plague of 1348. The Palermitan work belongs to a historical period defined as International Gothic or court style, and it is this same noble court that is represented in the majority of the fresco. Death, embodied by a skeleton, rides astride an emaciated horse that tramples the lifeless bodies beneath it. The scene’s grim protagonist has just released an arrow at a young man (in the bottom right) who, pierced through the neck, falls to his knees. The arrow is particularly symbolic in this context: since the classical age, it has been used to represent the unleashing of a plague on the part of a divinity or divinities. For this reason San Sebastiano, always represented in this iconography, having survived being hit with the executioners’ arrows, became one of the protecting saints against epidemics.
The painted wall interior has a clear internal division, so much so as to be didactic. On the left, a group of impoverished men and women are depicted, praying to Death to end their suffering. In the center foreground lie the bodies of monks, nobles, and other members of the ecclesiastical orders, showing that Death does not make class distinctions when he strikes. Lastly, on the right, only the aristocrats near the center are shown to be upset by the macabre spectacle, while those towards the edges appear either ignorant or serene, dedicated to their music and hunting. And yet Death is coming for them too.