Temperance– the stodgy virtue?

Here’s a typical representation of temperance.

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It seems like some artists lost all inspiration when it comes to Temperance. The woman who pours water from one vessel into another is a favorite reference. You see it everywhere, and many of them are stilted or lifeless.

By Nicola Quirico (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  The above is refreshing simply because it is different.

I suspect is the artist trying to make a point to a certain ruler. “Improve the management of this city, or Barbara Streisand is coming BACK!” I can’t help seeing the above and thinking of the South Park episode.

By see filename or category [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is both more typical– yet original and expressive.  At least she doesn’t look constipated and forbidding!   This  virtue is virtually unknown today, even among even those who should know better.  We forget that part in parcel with moderation comes– “saving for a rainy day”, or looking both ways before crossing a street.   But we all want to be grasshoppers, because jumping around is fun. Except that winter is coming.  And watching Game of Thrones won’t be enough.

By see filename or category [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now this is one of my favorite allegories about Temperance.  It looks at first blush, like a very light hearted scene.  In reality we are two beats from all hell breaking loose.

See the parents over there in the corner, having a nice private meal together– probably the first peace they’ve had in a long time.  Front and center is all about what the kids are doing.  The nearly-adult girl, who was set to watch the brood while the parents are away, has fallen asleep.  It looks like she was smoking a small pipe, or a cigarette. It’s dangling in her fingers and there are a few more sitting at her feet.  So she could destroy that pretty dress–or even set fire to the house.  You will note that there’s a parrot– and a child carrying a cat.   One girl is even feeding her meal to the cat — as well as the pig who’s eating up all the food that got spilled.

Something that us city slickers don’t usually think about, is that pigs will cheerfully eat birds whole if they can get a hold of them.  Also, back then, parrots were insanely expensive.  So depending on if the pig is up for meat or veggies, he could also go after all that lovely fruit.  You will note also that the parents are sitting under grape arbors, so that fruit also represents the parents livelihood, which explains how they can afford things like silk dresses for the “baby sitter” and a pet parrot.  So one gets the sense he’s also referring to the parable of the vineyard, with the violence of the tale being softened a touch through the agency of pets and children.

Those kids don’t really look like the type to stop disaster, but stand back and watch it with glee.  They all look so happy one almost wants to join them.

Something tells me this artist had some kids of his own. 🙂

I also like the fact that it describes this as an adult virtue. It is the hardest thing to learn as a kid, and the easiest to forget as an adult.  This is entirely a sign of how good we’ve had it for so long.   For most of history, this sort of lesson was intuitively obvious to most people. The consequences of failing to conserve and save were disastrous. Yes, far more so than the trouble potential here.  Much of the world still lives there.

Theodoor Rombouts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now this one is atypical in a totally different way. Instead of a woman pouring water from one vessel to another, he’s pouring water into a wine glass.   You will note the rosy cheeks and nose, which indicates he is having a good time. He has a ring, so he is married, note that “husband” was about conserving and “husbandry”.  He looks like a bar tender, yet he is serving water, with the same joy that one would expect to serve wine– or beer, for that matter.

So he might even be saying that the joy of temperance is the joy of turning water into wine.  He certainly does not see temperance as the obligatory haridan of the muses.  But he hints to the good things that come out of it, and that with temperance you find joy in your restraint– because it is a grace as well as a virtue. And truly, when you can find lightness and joy in “just enough”, you know that you have truly been blessed.


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