Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife

John Souch, 1593-1594 - 1645

Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife

John Souch 1593-1594 - 1645


A portrait of Sir Thomas Aston standing at the deathbed of his wife: a large seventeenth-century mourning painting, predominantly in black and white. The dead woman, dressed in white lace bedclothes, lies in a grand bed to the right, which is draped in black velvet. A second woman, dressed in black, is kneeling at the foot of the bed in the bottom right corner, facing the viewer. She wears earrings of two black teardrop-shaped pearls at each ear. Her neck and breast are adorned with black ribbon bows. One of her arms has a black ribbon tied around it, and the other a black string. Sir Thomas Aston stands to the left of the bed, one hand resting on a skull placed on a wicker cradle draped in black velvet, which stands on the floor beside the deathbed. The Latin inscription on the cradle translates as ‘He who sows in flesh reaps bones’. Sir Thomas is dressed in black with a large white collar and cuffs, and white flashes on his sleeves. His shoes and breeches are decorated with ribbon rosettes. He wears mourning jewellery: a death’s head brooch adorns his black silk sash. With his right hand he holds on to a cross-staff, or fore-staff. His son, young Thomas, stands in the bottom left corner, also grasping the cross-staff and pointing to the message inscribed upon it, which translates as ‘The seas can be defined, the earth can be measured, grief is immeasurable'. Behind young Thomas is another painted inscription in Latin, which translates as ‘The little branch of his brother; the glory of his mother; the consolation of his father; aged 3 years, 9 months’. In the background to the left are a cosmological globe upon which can be seen painted symbolic animals and a two-headed, twelve stringed lute which has been snapped. They sit upon a table which has a covering of a fringed rug, decorated with animals in an Indian style. A coat of arms is painted in the centre of the top edge above Sir Thomas, enclosed within a laurel wreath. It is a funeral hatchment, depicted as pinned to the velvet drapery. The laurel leaves around Sir Thomas’ half of the coat of arms are withered, and the lowest leaf is inscribed ‘My crown has become barren’, in Latin. The wreath around his wife’s side of the coat of arms is green, and the Latin inscription translates as ‘Virtue flourishes after death’. Behind Sir Thomas’ head is a further inscription in Latin, which translates as ‘The griefs of death surround me; in the year of grief September 30, 1635, aged 35. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear not, I will be consoled.’ (from Psalm no.s 116 and 23). The floor is covered with rush matting.

Display Label

Absent Presence 19 June 2015 – 3 January 2016 Manchester Art Gallery recently acquired Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, by contemporary artist Callum Innes. This new display of works from our collection takes its inspiration from this painting. It looks at how art captures a moment in time and asks how a subject can be present in an artwork, yet absent at the same time. Innes created this Exposed Painting by a process of ‘unpainting’: brushing off the top layer of black paint to reveal the deep green colour underneath, leaving traces of brushstrokes behind. In this way, he both removes the image and leaves its presence visible. The paintings in this gallery all require a similar heightened level of looking, a searching for traces of the absent. The artists are often playing with the concept of time, adding presences from the past into scenes of the present. A literal example is this Victorian family photograph. The image of the boy has been inserted after his death to show that for his family, he remains forever present. When the subject is absent, we try to find the missing presence in what remains.

Object Name

Sir Thomas Aston at the Deathbed of his Wife

Creators Name

John Souch

Date Created



Canvas: 203.2cm x 215.1cm
framed: 237cm x 249.5cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


Presented by Mr E. Peter Jones through the National Art Collections Fund


© Manchester Art Gallery

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