This post is an add-on to one I made on the Triumph of Death fresco in Clusone, which is where I talked about the significance of the main scene and the people who put it up. Today we are zooming in on the top left. My photo is not terribly good, especially when cropped, but here it is.
You can just see three horsemen in rich clothing and their two hunting dogs. They are riding towards a sort of hedge, actually representing a wood, and over the hedge two distressed faces show horror. This is a version of a legend, really just a moral fable, going back to a 13th century poem by Baudoin de Condé, who should have an acute accent on his final ‘e’. The gist is that three nobles, enjoying the wealth and leisure of their status, go hunting in the forest and meet three corpses who remind then that they will soon be as the corpses now are and urge them to repent. In the 13th century original, the corpses are clergy, but this is a late version (1485) and follows a well known variant where the hunters meet their doubles, so that it becomes a doppelgänger story .
As far as I can make out, the horsemen in the foreground are the corpses. Number 3 lies across his horse transfixed by a javelin – this is my main clue. Number 2 seems to have a problem with his neck, and I think he may he indicating that he is hanged by a noose. Number 1 looks fine to me, although he is very far forward over the horse’s neck, but I didn’t have a good enough zoom to be sure. The later frame has cut off part of the scene left including the third face. I’m not quite sure what the prominent bird is doing: it may be a hawk, part of the hunting scene, but I’m not at all sure. It isn’t a usual part of the group.
If you search for the Three Living and the Three Dead, you will find an enormous number of images. This version is quite restrained. Here are some I have harvested on the Internet
This is a Flemish version from about the same period. The one below, also from Northern Europe is much earlier, about 1349.
This version is from another Italian fresco, in the Monastery of St Benedict, Subiaco. Here the corpses show three stages of decomposition, with maggots infesting the central one. The nobles are carrying birds of prey – they are hawking. I have seen this fresco in real life, but I have had to borrow the photo.