December 8, 2017
Julius Rotermund, The Wise and Foolish Virgin, 1856, oil on canvas, 46 1/2 x 47 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by William P. and Barbara L. Benac, 2015.
“But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps . . .” (Matthew 25:4)
On this day in 1867, President Brigham Young reorganized the Relief Society, which we celebrate with the message of Julius Rotermund’s The Wise and Foolish Virgin, a painting that portrays contrasting examples of spiritual preparedness. At left, the wise young virgin looks heavenward. She has donned the habit of a religious order, placing one hand over her heart while the other proffers an oil lamp topped with a miniature Saint George fighting the dragon, a symbolic allusion to overcoming evil. She wears a maiden wreath of leaves, emphasizing her virtue. The inscription at her feet reads: “Stay awake, because you do
not know when the bridegroom comes.”
In contrast, the foolish and unprepared virgin leans languidly against the wall, as if sleeping. Her leafy crown has fallen to the ground and the lamp hangs loosely, ready to slip from her tenuous grip. Her cover robe sags carelessly around her hips. Her inscription reads: “Lest he does not come too soon and finds you sleeping.”
This piece is currently on display at the MOA in the exhibition To Magnify the Lord: Six Centuries of Art and Devotion.