Les Vierges sages et les vierges folles (The Wise and Foolish Virgins)
The Wise Virgins before the Fire
The Foolish Virgins Wasting Time
The Foolish Virgins Sleeping
Illustrations for Desmarets’s L’Ariane
PART 2 of 2.
There are more images in this batch; check out Part 1 of the post!
The three prints from Les Vierges sages et les vierges folles (The Wise and Foolish Virgins)
are part of a set of seven published around 1635 by Jean Leblond. The set illustrates and expand on the parable found in the Bible, in Matthew 25: 1–13:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Bible Gateway, http://tinyurl.com/qcl7z5h)
Three of the prints feature animals; the other four, which do not, are The Wise Virgins at Prayer (http://tinyurl.com/q3gfxzs), The Wise Virgins Carrying Their Lamps (http://tinyurl.com/mjccquh), The Foolish Virgins Approaching the Temple (http://tinyurl.com/ncwrau4), and The Wise and Foolish Virgins Together ( http://tinyurl.com/mcnmyag).
The Wise Virgins before the Fire shows the women, awake and watchful, sitting around a fire and praying while their lamps burn brightly on a table nearby. Accompanying them is a cat, curled up and staring into the fire. Bosse sure did love to draw (etch) globular cats! This one is very round and fluffy, and, as she is with the wise virgins, she is probably a very sensible and astute kitty. Cats are known for their excellent vision, and, in this scene, that probably underscores the focus and watchfulness of the women.
In The Foolish Virgins Wasting Time, the women are in an elaborately-decorated room enjoying “frivolous” pursuits—music, playing cards, reading, studying geography (???), and doing a quick mirror check. Their lamps, meanwhile, lie in a heap, unlit and forgotten. The women’s activities are, apparently, bad and will keep them from being all pious and subservient and worthy of salvation. Nuts to that! The didactic message of this print is boring, stuffy, anti-woman, and anti-fun. Hmph.
HOWEVER, there is an excellent dog in the scene: lying on a cushion near one of the women is a very cute little hairy dog with (of course!) a lion cut. The dog is probably supposed to represent idleness or something, but a snooze is always worthwhile. Dogs know the value of proper rest, and we humans would do well to follow that example. RELAXATION IS VERY IMPORTANT AND ANYWAY I AM CONTEMPLATING LIFE’S MYSTERIES OVER HERE THIS PILLOW IS VERY COMFORTABLE.
In The Foolish Virgins Sleeping, the women have once again abandoned their lamps and are dozing in front of the fire—instead of praying and waiting for Jesus to come fetch them like the wise virgins did. The round and fluffy cat accompanies them. She does not judge what these women do; cats have better things to worry about than the moral state of humans. A warm lap is a warm lap. And speaking of warm laps, the little hairy dog has found one. One of the women drapes an affectionate arm over the pup dozing in her skirts. The dog looks to be very happy. What a choice spot! I AM ON MY PERSON THIS IS THE GREATEST PLEASURE IN LIFE. BLISS!
Foolish, bah. Anyone who loves and cares for an animal is OK in my book. Plus, you know that these gals are much more fun than the other ones.
The night scene print is from a set illustrating Jean Desmaret’s epic romance novel L’Ariane. The book came out in 1632, and Bosse did 18 etchings for a 1639 edition published by Mathieu Guillemot. The novel is in first-century Rome during the time of Nero’s persecution of Christians. Two fellows from Syracuse, Mélinte and Palamède, visit Rome and fall in love with Roman virgins: Mélinte with Ariane, and Palamède with her maid Epicharis. They try to avoid persecution from both Nero and Ariane’s uncle. After a series of misadventures, Mélinte is forced to fight for his life, but he beheads his foe and marries Ariane. The story sounds like it is pretty spicy; apparently, Ariane often finds herself naked and in scandalous situations.
For the rest of the prints, you can see all 18 in one place on the British Museum’s website (http://tinyurl.com/lm38utp). The National Gallery also has the complete set: http://tinyurl.com/qdetq9l, http://tinyurl.com/nqvf84v, http://tinyurl.com/mrom2oh, http://tinyurl.com/q9mtzdl, http://tinyurl.com/nfxplvn, http://tinyurl.com/qdxhlgd , http://tinyurl.com/mdtam73, http://tinyurl.com/ptamleh, http://tinyurl.com/mpqpvmj, http://tinyurl.com/kkhsxlw, http://tinyurl.com/k4fb3rq, http://tinyurl.com/l5c933l, http://tinyurl.com/llpd4g6, http://tinyurl.com/nquqbwm, http://tinyurl.com/oa5kb3y, http://tinyurl.com/mnw78ex, http://tinyurl.com/mptt2p6.
The print featured here might be one such scandalous situation—it is set in a bedroom at night, with an old man, a young man and a woman rolling around on the ground while a woman with an oil lamp rushes in and two other people look on, unconcerned. Also coming to the rescue is a very enthusiastic dog. He bounds up the steps, in full bark and ready to assist in whatever way he can. I AM HERE I WILL SAVE THE DAY LET ME AT THE BAD PEOPLE THEY MUST DESIST I AM A DOG AND I SHALL TRIUMPH IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS GOOD FOR DOGKIND AND PERSONKIND ALIKE. Good and brave fellow! A true hero dog!
 Steven Moore, The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600–1800 (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), p. 193.