VANITAS ET VERITAS: The Parable of the wise and foolish virgins by Francken Hieronymus the Younger (1616)

We now plunge into the sixth and the last discourse of the Gospel of Matthew known as the Eschatological or the apocalyptic discourse. Consisting of Chapter 24 and 25, it revolves around the themes of Parousia (Greek word for ‘arrival’) or the Lord’s second coming. To elaborate upon this theme Matthew presents 3 parables. The painting in consideration is concerned with the second parable namely, ‘The Wise and the Foolish Virgins’.

The allegorical reading taken from Matthew chapter 25 verses 1 to 13 employs a number of images that would be familiar to the first century recipients. The first is that of a marriage. In modern times it is usually the bride who gets ‘fashionably late’ for the nuptials while the groom anxiously awaits his beloved. Not so was the scene in Jesus’ day and age.

Wedding festivities lasted for seven days. On this joyous occasion the bridesmaids would await the arrival of the bridegroom with lamps and would greet him in a procession of lights. The groom, as in today’s parable, is the lord of surprises. He comes at an hour unknown.

Francken the Younger translates this allegory into reality through his painting. Here the camera focuses on two groups of bridesmaids who wait in anticipation for the groom’s arrival. The activity they indulge in is what distinguishes one group from the other.

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