Watching the Battle
Who are these lovely ladies hiding in the crevice of a rock? What are they looking at? We learn from the painting’s title that their names are Courage, Anxiety, and Despair and they are watching a battle. This masterpiece is by British painter James Sant who was mostly known for his portraits. He was the longest-living member of the Royal Academy, producing around 250 canvases over his 76-year membership.
Let’s meet these women. On the far left is Courage. She leans forward, focused and intensely watching events unfold that we, the viewer, are not privy to see. In her hand she grips a knife, bravely ready to defend. Around her neck is a string of scallops. In Christianity, the scallop shell is often associated with salvation as it was used to scoop up the waters of baptism.
Courage uses her left arm to keep Despair at bay. Despair sits sadly resigned to her perceived demise. Her eyes are closed and her posture suggests she does not have the strength to fight.
Between Courage and Despair is Anxiety. She sits in the shadows, peaking around the rock to watch the battle with concern. Her hand grasps her neck as if she is trying to keep down the worries that are rising up within her.
It is interesting that we are not able to see the battle the women are facing. Perhaps this is intentional because the battle really doesn’t matter. It could be external or internal, real or perceived, emotional or spiritual. What matters is our response to it. We, the viewer, are left to consider whether or not we would face our battles with courage or succumb to anxiety and despair. Anxiety remains in the shadows, afraid of what the battle might mean for her. Despair accepts defeat before even engaging. Courage, however, is more concerned with freedom and is willing to fight for it, even as anxiety and despair linger behind her.
What battles are you facing? Which figure represents your response? I think it is significant that Courage wears the necklace of salvation over her heart. Perhaps that is what gives her the bravery required to face the battlefield. The salvation won for us through Christ emboldens us to take on life’s battles with courage and confidence in God’s goodness and providence.
Being Human connection: May the Lord give you the strength you need to summons the courage it takes to keep anxiety and despair at bay.
Featured art: James Sant, Courage, Anxiety, and Despair: Watching the Battle, 1850
A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love.