Jacob de Gheyn the Younger, Allegory on the Equality of all Mankind in Death, a drawing

The Netherlands, AD 1599

This drawing is executed in pen and brown ink with a brown and grey wash. It has been indented for transfer to a plate for an engraving.

Its complex meaning is derived from the Latin inscriptions. The most important is that at the top of the tent: MORS SCEPTRA LIGONIBUS AEQVAT ('Death makes the sceptre and spade equal'). Death is therefore the equaliser of people of all classes, from the peasant on the left to the Emperor on the right. The skeletons show no social distinction.

On the rim of the tent stand an owl and a lamp, symbols of death and life respectively. The round scenes show the Fall of Man and the Crucifixion, representing the introduction and the conquering of death. The Last Judgement painted in the centre reminds the viewer of Divine Judgement. The boy blowing bubbles is a traditional emblem of transience dictated by the words inscribed over his head: HOMO BULLA ('Man is [as] a soap bubble'). The drawing and print of this theme of mortality-and the passing of human existence-are therefore designed to encourage the renunciation of all worldly pleasures and to prepare the viewer for death.

De Gheyn (1565-1629) was a prolific designer and engraver. He was a pupil of the Catholic-leaning artist, Hendrik Goltzius in Haarlem, but de Gheyn sympathized more with Protestant or Calvinist teachings as this drawing fully illustrates. He also worked in Amsterdam and Leiden, but finally found work at the court in The Hague.

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Jacob de Gheyn the Younger, Allegory on the Equality of all Mankind in Death, a drawing

After conservation


More information


M. Royalton-Kisch, H. Chapman and S. Coppel, Old Master drawings from the M, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Height: 457.000 mm
Width: 348.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-9-15-1031



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