Thursday, 28 April 2011

Carpe Diem

Over at Faith, Hope and Charity Shopping, Lakota has a fascinating post today about this Gainsborough portrait which has set me thinking hard…

Gainsborough Mrs Moody

It is from the Dulwich Picture Gallery, [a great place to visit] and shows Mrs Elizabeth Moody, [1756-82]. In 1779 she married Samuel Moody, to whom she bore two sons, Samuel [b.1781] and Thomas (b.1782). An X-ray has revealed that this was originally painted as a single portrait, the sitter's right hand raised to finger a string of pearls at her chest. The portrait in this state was probably painted c.1779/ 80. The children must have been added after their mother's death – probably around 1784/5. Their father remarried in 1786. Thomas apparently had an aversion to his step-mother, and by giving this valuable Gainsborough to a public gallery, he would have prevented it from passing to her four children.

The amazing thing about the picture, as Lakota points out, is that “the mother is shown holding the children at an age when she never knew them. Would Samuel and Thomas have grown up adoring this last connection to the mother they would never know, as we cling to photographs of family members we have lost? Or did it act as a memento mori – ‘remember you too must die?’”

A century later, the Victorians certainly made a big thing about death, and mourning the dead [think of all those items of Black Whitby Jet Jewellery, and lockets containing locks of hair, which are forever appearing on Bargain Hunt] Lakota shares an amazing pair of photographs from her own family collection. And other Victorians took some rather disturbing photographs of dead family members[warning – you may be very upset if you click here]

But maybe there was some sense in their attitudes

  • it is important to remember those who have died [The memory of the just is blessed says Proverbs 10:7]
  • it is important to support the bereaved [Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted says Matthew 5;4
  • it is important to work hard today – you may be dead tomorrow![Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. reminds the preacher in Eccles 9;10]

It is too easy, in this day and age, to fall into the trap of thinking we will live forever. Pension funds are apparently collapsing “because everyone is living into their eighties and nineties” said a man on the radio the other day. No, actually, they aren’t! People get ill, people have accidents, and quite a few never make it even to their threescore-years-and-ten.

Easter Sunday means we can rejoice in a hope of heaven – but it is always sad when someone dies, especially if they are young, or if, like Mrs Moody above, they are a parent of young children. Those who are bereft will be grieving and must be comforted.

But none of us knows how long we have – so let us live each day to the full. My Mum was forever quoting “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Jesus will last”

So I think that now I should stop listening to the radio whilst reading blogs, and go and do something more productive!!


  1. Such a lovely post Angela! Your mother is right! Everything else is just a "chasing after the wind..."
    I didn't know this about this painting... poignant to be sure.

  2. Thanks Angela, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, I found it one of the most interesting to write. I have a lot of very old family photographs, but I have yet to find a memento mori of the little girl as an infant, perhaps they didn't have the money when she died? Or maybe as her brother grew up, they just wondered more and more how she would have looked.

    Thank you for linking to my post, I think this is the first time I have been 'quoted' elsewhere in blogland.

    Lakota x


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