The statue is 177 cm (70 in) in height, and made from black marble and limestone. It consists of three limestone blocks which form the skeliton's head and torso, left arm, and legs and pelvis. Both the statue and its frame are supported by an iron stud located at the figure's pelvis. The corpse is life-sized, putrefied and emaciated, and hangs above the church altarpiece. Its left arm reaches out, while its right hand rests on its chest. The outstretched arm may have once have held René's preserved heart, and extended in a gesture that may have been either pleading or tribute to a higher being.
Unknown artist, La Mort Saint-Innocent
, 1520s, 120 x 55 cm (47.2 x 21.7 in). Musée du Louvre
The rotting skeleton is depicted in an unflinching realistic manner, and placed on a stylobate supported on two black marble columns with Corinthian capitals. A coat of arms is placed underneath the figure, while the escutcheon is empty. The figure has been described as a "rotting corpse with shredded muscles falling from the bones and skin hanging in flaps over a hollow carcass".
His left hand reaches upwards as if pleading to heaven or God. The gesture may be in reference to the biblical passage from Job 19:26: "And though after my skin, worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God". The gesture may represent contrite pleading or supplication, or the ability of the spirit to overcome mortality. The art historian Kathleen Cohen writes that the monument may be an illustration of the "doctrine of corruption as a necessary step toward regeneration".
René's outstretched hand was stolen by a French soldier in 1793. It was later replaced, but shown holding either a clepsydra or hourglass, obvious symbolic objects for a memento mori. However, that placement changed the meaning of the sculpture, from a representation of René to a depiction of the personification of death or as a danse macabre.