Mors sceptra ligonibus aequat. Mors ultima linea rerum.

Method Copper engraving
Artist after Egbert van Panderen
Published [c.1610]
Dimensions Image 185 x 120 mm, Plate 190 x 124 mm, Sheet 272 x 178 mm
Notes A rare and very characterful memento mori portrait, featuring the bust of a skeleton in a decorative oval frame. The skeleton's jawbone hangs open, showing an almost toothless mouth in an attitude suggestive of laughter. Depending on the mood of the viewer this can be read as a gesture of either mirth or mockery, or perhaps most appropriately as both. In the surrounding frame, grim armorials feature hourglasses and four skull-and-bones motifs wearing crowns, a papal tiara, and an ornate classicizing helmet. Behind each, sceptres and ploughshares make reference to the first of two titles for the plate, Mors sceptra ligonibus aequat - 'Death makes equal the sceptre and the scythe' - a reminder that, eventually, even the highest king and the lowest peasant end up as equals. The image is completed by a secondary title, enclosed in a matching baroque strapwork frame featuring death's heads in the corners, which reads Mors ultima linea rerum - 'Death is the ultimate end for all things.' This sentiment, adapted from the final line of Horace's 16th Epistle, was a popular one in sixteenth and seventeenth century memento mori iconography, as the poet's original context is not just a warning to enjoy the temporal joys of life but also a reminder that Death itself can put an end to suffering and hardship too. Below the image, four lines of Latin text drawn from Prosper of Aquitaine preserve some of St Augustine's musings on death: Divitiis flores, et maiorum nobilitate te iactas, et exultas de pulchritudine corporis, et honoribus qui tibi ab hominibus deferuntur' Respice te ipsum quia mortalis es, et quia terra es, et in terram ibis - 'You flourish in riches, boast of the renown of the great, exult in the beauty of the body and the honours men bestow upon you. Consider then that you yourself are mortal, that you are earth, and into earth you will go.'

The identity of the engraver of the present example is something of a mystery. A pencil annotation in the bottom margin describes it as a copy after Philips Galle (1537-1612). The portrait was almost certainly engraved as part of a series exploring the Servitudes of Man, with the portrait of Death as the ultimate ending to the Way of the Flesh (Servitus Carni). Of the four or five plates in the series, Death seems to have been by far the most popular and was subsequently re-engraved and reissued by numerous different engravers and publishers in various contexts. The current example is usually identified as a later state of a very similar plate (Hollstein 49) signed by Egbert van Panderen, despite minor differences in the text, borders, and the skeleton itself. Another plate by van Panderen, featuring the same central skeletal portrait though with different border details and text, attributes the original design of the series to a Joannes Bernadinus S., possibly the Neapolitan painter Giovanni Bernardino Siciliano (1572-1645). Yet another series (Hollstein 82-87) of the Servitudes was produced by Alexander Mair around 1600, seemingly before that of Bernardinus and van Panderen though featuring many of the same elements. The floral elements in the outside border share superficial details with a series of Moribundi Imagines published by Jean Leclerc IV (1587-1621), which, although linked thematically, do not share any further compositional similarities

Condition: Minor foxing and rust stains. Minor dirt staining to margins. Minor surface abrasion to centre of image. Framed in an antique style frame.
Framing unmounted
Price £1,750.00
Stock ID 49603