Hidden Symbols in a 400-year-old Painting | TateShots

Hidden Symbols in a 400-year-old Painting | TateShots


This painting is something of a mystery. It’s called An Allegory of Man, and we know
it was painted on wood sometime around 1596. What we don’t know is who made it, or why? But we do know it was painted in secret. This is because of the Reformation, when the
English church broke with Rome. After that it was not permitted to display
religious images. So, the painting must have been made surreptitiously,
possibly for a devotional chamber where a person could pray in private. The main inscription is a warning. It tells of how our souls are in peril from
the seven deadly sins. The central figure is a soldier and he is being tempted on all sides by vice. On the left is a magnificently dressed woman,
who aims her bow at him. Each arrow has a title: Gluttony Sloth and Lechery Around her waist is a belt of precious stones
and an hourglass which alludes to the time wasted from idleness. Beneath her is a miser and he is aiming an
arrow of Covetousness. We know he is a miser because on the desk
there are coins, purses and an accounting book Emerging from the flames of hell, is the Devil. He has the sins of Pride Wrath and Envy in his bow. The skeleton is Death and he has a spear ready
to pierce his victim’s heart. But leaning down is an angel who is investing
the soldier with a shield of Christian virtues. These virtues are written on a long scroll
that wraps itself protectively around the man. Above are 12 angels, a perfect number in theology,
symbolising God’s power and authority. At the top of the painting is the figure of
Christ A scroll bears his words, and they succinctly
sum up the picture: BE SOBER & WATCH, FOR THOW KNOWEST NEITHER
THE DAY NOR THE HOUR In other words, be good, because you don’t
know when death might come and get you.

5 thoughts on “Hidden Symbols in a 400-year-old Painting | TateShots

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *