Opaque glass mosaic, designed by William Blake Richmond, executed by Messrs Powell of Whitefriars, installed by 1896
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul described the truth as a force that “we can do nothing against”. This might account for the armour of this allegory. The figure also carries a mirror with a face on the back, a symbol normally associated with the allegorical representation of the cardinal virtue prudence. Prudence has been more commonly shown among series of virtues since Medieval times. Truth might have been chosen here as the more straight forward concept.
Here, in addition, Prudence's mirror probably has to read together with the winged helmet which allows us to identify the figure as Perseus, a hero in ancient Greek mythology who defeated the monster Medusa, and mounted her head to his shield, Hermes lent him wings to attach to his helmet. In this context it is interesting that the cartoon for this mosaic, which is still part of the Cathedral Collections differs significantly from the executed version: a slain dragon lies to the feet of the figure and the inscription "CALUMNIA" ('slander') can be seen on the cartoon. According to classical mythology Perseus defeated the sea monster Cetus, often depicted as dragon-like creature, and liberated Andromeda.
This allegorical mosaic is one of six allegories of Christian virtues in the apse of St Paul’s Cathedral. The male and female figures are shown with symbolic objects, also known as attributes, and represent the following moral concepts: charity, truth, fortitude, chastity, hope and justice. The selection is inspired by the traditional seven key Christian virtues which are mentioned in the Old Testament and also have parallels in classical philosophy. Temperance, truth (which could be shown instead of the related virtue of prudence), justice and fortitude are the most common cardinal (Latin for ‘main’) virtues - three of which are represented in the quire. In addition, allegories of Hope and Charity, two of the three theological virtues faith, love and hope, can be seen. Chastity, also depicted, was included in a list of seven “Heavenly Virtues”, first promoted in the fifth century.
Virtues have always been an important subject matter of Christian art, even though the key virtues changed over the course of the centuries. In term of mosaics, Boris Anrep’s Modern Virtues, completed over half a century later and part of his mosaic floor for the National Gallery, provide an interesting comparison and contrast in terms not only of selection of virtues, but also in terms of style and mosaic technique.
Brief description: male youth in armour, standing on a uniformly green surface and holding a mirror in his left; in his right a lance pointing downwards with a banner attached to it which is inscribed in Latin “VERITAS VERITAS”
Related quotes: Browne 1896, p. 6: “[...] six figures have been worked in mosaic, typical of six Virtues named in the Revelation. These are, beginning on the north side and passing round to the south,1. Hope, 2. Fortitude, 3. Charity, 4.Truth, 5. Chastity, 6. Justice.”
Literature and references: Browne 1896, p. 6; Zech 2015, p. 41.