Tuesday, September 19, 2006


My mom sent me this image today as a quesiton that she later answered herself. Is it Venus (because Cupid is holding up the mirror)? No, it's Donato Creti's allegory of Prudence, and the figure is La Prudenza (late 17th century), who is able to overcome vanity or fancy (represented by the putto holding a mirror) with knowledge and awareness of death (represented by the open book and the skull).

Hmm. Actually it looks more like she's about to lob the skull at whatever she sees in the mirror, which would kind of defeat the purpose. In other words, if you're prudent, then you know what you see in the mirror is an illusion, all is vanity, so smashing it would be to confuse the image with reality. Besides, breaking a mirror means bad luck for seven years, and it's a mess to clean up.

Or, put another way (courtesy of Muse Maman), "So if you can read and look in the mirror and fling a skull at the same time, you must be Prudent?"

Don't say she's just holding the skull up in opposition to the mirror. What a boring interpretation. Dull, dull, dull. You get a B minus for not taking enough risks in your reading. This skull was made for flinging, and flinging's what it'll do. One of these days, It'll fling all over . . . yes, well, turns out she's not very prudent at all, is she?

Originally, I thought the image was a nice reminder of what I'm trying to do here, i.e, trying not to let my rampant imagination dominate my thoughts and get in the way of my scholarly exercises.

But I've never been one to smash my imagination. The imagination is what fuels my scholarship. I'd like to keep the mirror up there. And I don't need to do away with Cupid either, he's not hurting anyone. Come to think of it, the skull's important too, especially to my work. Let's just try to keep our skulls away from our mirrors, shall we?


Anonymous said...

I say yay for moms; moms rock!

muse said...

Yes they do, and *mine* is my favorite mom of all. ;-)

Diogenes Teufelsdröckh said...

Dear Prudence,
Won't you come out to play?
Dear Prudence,
Go put that skull away.
The sun is up, the sky is blue,
It's beautiful and so are you.
Dear Prudence,
Read that book another day.

Flavia said...

Isn't she holding the skull up next to her own head so that she can see them both in the mirror at the same time--and thus contemplate That to Which All Flesh Is Heir?

Great image. And I'll second the remark about the coolness of your maman.

muse said...

Flavia, I'm sure you're right. The skull is a memento mori.

But are allegorical figures subject to the same thousand natural shocks that real people are?

And what happens if Prudentia decays? Where would we be then?