The Berger Collection

Cornelis Ketel (1548-1616)
Thomas Pead, 1578
Oil on panel
Inscribed at upper right, Ano 1578 / Aetatis Sue 39 , and on the skull, Respice Finem
34 x 27 3/4 in. (86 x 70.5 cm)

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Thomas Pead was registrar of the archdeaconries of Norwich in Norfolk and Sudbury in Suffolk. The portrait was painted in 1578, when, as the inscription tells us, Pead was thirty-nine years old. His hand rests on a skull, which, along with the quill and paper, refers to his profession--recording births and deaths. On his index finger he wears a gold ring bearing his coat of arms, which he may have used as a seal. Given the fairly modest nature of Pead's social standing, this is an extravagant, perhaps even ostentatious, work. He is dressed in lavish costume, with fine lace and gold buttons, and has an air of gentlemanly contemplation. This is a man whose "business" was life and death, and appropriately enough his portrait deals with issues of mortality. Its general theme is that we should make the most of life while we are alive because death comes to us all. The Latin inscription at the top left of the painting reads:

"Let the pleasant day, a brief and incoverable time endure.
Life is for everyone, it is fashioned for the enlargement of gain.
This work of virtue lives [on] after burials [life].
While it is a wholesome thing to think on [one's] tardy end
Scandalous woman beware premeditating your own death.
Death reaps with his scythe where an industrious life is old.
And life prunes herself where death waits with his scythe."

This chilling advice is punctuated in dramatic fashion by the inscription on the skull "Respice Finem," "Take heed of the end!"


The Fellowes family, Shotesham Park, Norfolk; Shotesham Park sale, Christie's, London, September 25, 1979, lot 379; Sotheby's, London, November 12, 1997, lot 23


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, vol. II, Norwich, [1928?], pp. 295-296, repr. opp. p. 288

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