Rembrandt Peale chose to paint a subject intended to be a moral statement for contemporary times. The work is based on a poem by an Anglican bishop describing how mortal man is called by death. To the far left of the central figure of Death are War and his agents, who trample over the bodies of his victims, a widow and an orphan. To Death’s right is a mass of humanity representing sins from intemperance to suicide, all of which are associated with those who have died from leading decadent lives. Below the feet of Death is the body of a man cut down in the prime of life, which demonstrates the power Death holds over everyone. Approaching the central figure is Old Age, who is supported by Faith and, after leading a long, productive, and pious life, welcomes Death with outstretched arms.
Artist Rembrandt Peale, American, 1778-1860
Title
  • The Court of Death
Date 1820
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 11 feet 6 inches × 23 feet 5 inches (3 m 50.5 cm × 7 m 13.7 cm)
Framed: 12 feet 8 inches × 24 feet 7 inches × 7 inches (3 m 86.1 cm × 7 m 49.3 cm × 17.8 cm)
Credit Line Gift of George H. Scripps
Accession Number 85.3
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W284, Level 2 (see map)
1858, G. Q. Cotton (Philadelphia, Pennsylavania, USA).
by 1879, sold to Samuel A. Coale, Jr. (St. Louis, Missouri, USA);
1885, purchased by George H. Scripps (Detroit, Michigan, USA);
1885-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Dunlap. Arts of Design II. New York, 1834, p. 54.

Tuckerman, H. T. Book of the Artists. New York, 1867, p. 62.

Benjamin, S.G.W. Art in America. New York, 1880, p. 28.

Strahan, Edward, ed. Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, 1880, p. 54.

Bulletin of the DMA 4 (1910): p. 38.

Bryant, Lorinsa Munson. What Pictures to See in America. New York, 1915, pp. 234-235.

LaFollette, S. Art in America. 1929, p. 71.

Bulletin of the DIA 23, no. 7 (1944): p. 57 (ill.).

Sellers, Charles Coleman. “The Pale Horse on the Road.” Antiques (May 1954): p. 385.

Exhibition of Paintings by Rembrandt Peale. Exh. cat., Municipal Museum of Baltimore. Baltimore, 1937, no. 8.

The World of the Romantic Artist. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1944, no. 29.

Barker, Virgil. American Painting. New York, 1950, pp. 335-336 (pl. 46).

The Peale Family: Three Generations of American Artists. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1967, p. 114, no. 167 (ill.)

Canaday, John. The Lives of the Painters, Vol. 4. London, 1969, pl. 216.

Isham, Samuel. American Painting. New York, 1905, p. 125.

American Narrative Painting. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum. Los Angeles, 1974, p. 11 (fig. 3).

Bulletin of the DMA 4, 3 (1910): p. 139 (ill.).

Miller, L.B. “The Peale Family.” Smithsonian 10 (April 1979): p. 72 (ill.).

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Bellion, Wendy. Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National America. Chapel Hill, 2011, p. 285 (fig. 69).