Sunday, August 20
Triple Portrait of a Young Woman Contemplating the Active and Contemplative Lives. Matthew Alderman. Ink on vellum, January 2006.
The Triple Portrait grew out of a request from a first-year Notre Dame student who was so eager at the start of freshman year to go off to the convent that she asked me to do a portrait of her in her future habit. I thought about it, and I set down to work over Christmas break along with a number of other drawings for friends that you've seen featured here. I also realized that vocation plans can change; and so I transformed my project into an exploration of the uncertainty and potentiality of this moment in her life. While a double portrait might have presented her possible choices as opposing elements, a triple portrait struck me as depicting her choices as two equal alternatives both reflecting some aspect of her developing soul, and an opportunity to make a reference to one of my own favorite works, Philippe de Champagne's remarkable triple portrait of Richelieu.
The active life is represented, in a modern twist, by the subject dressed in a sweatshirt and faced outward, the corpus or the physical, vigorous body capable of doing great things for God. The anima, the soul, is represented as torn between her choice of the active or the contemplative lives, and stares outward at the viewer, self-aware in her choice. The spiritus, which is the term used by St. Paul to represent the presence of God in a particular person's life, is turned inward--a gesture which can have any number of interpretations depending on what the final choice may be, but also represents the inward turning towards things of the soul. She is habited in Dominican robes, and a small convent can be glimpsed in the distance.
As it turned out, my caution was fortuitous, as I found out upon my return that the girl's circumstances had changed over break--and so the portrait changed from an ongoing question to a commemoration of a moment of choice in her life, and of her fusion of the active life with a contemplative soul, the great challenge of the Christian laity.