Ash Wednesday, Mercredi des Cendres

Ash Wednesday Carl Spitzweg

Ash Wednesday follows Fat Tuesday, and the mood could not be more different. Today, a day of fast and prayer, marks the beginning of Lent. The day of ashes on foreheads, and the admonition Memento, homo, quod pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”)

No better illustration of the contrast between Carnival and Lent than this work by the 19th century Bavarian artist Carl Spitzweg. Spitzweg, though classified as a Romanticist, admired and emulated the genre paintings of the 17th century Flemish school. His style is often humorous and down-to-earth (two qualities I find somewhat lacking in Romantic art.)

Note how the character here is still wearing his cheerful Carnival costume. Only he probably pushed the spirit of revelry a bit too far and gets to spend Ash Wednesday in jail, a pitcher of water as his sole company.

The projection of the bars of the window and mournful attitude of our character bring home his contrition, and yet sunlight floods the cell, symbolizing the forgiveness and hope that follow atonement.

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