Sin, Virtue & The Language of Flowers
by Cathy Ledeker
Jealousy & Kindness
Born and raised Protestant in southern Kansas, I have long questioned the rationale for religious dogma and ritual. My personal “inquisition” conceived and gestated a desire to paint The Seven Deadly Sins. Research quickly revealed the existence of a set of corresponding Seven Heavenly Virtues, each paired with its own specific Sin. In deciding to include both the Sins and Virtues in this body of work, I present a more balanced and complete portrait of western morality and human dichotomy.
Today’s version of the Seven Deadly Sins was invented by Pope Gregory I in the 6th Century, each Sin complete with its own hideously unique punishment upon conviction. The history of The Seven Heavenly Virtues is more vague. I came to understand that too much of either Sin or Virtue is predictably unhinging, and that a little Sin has its merits. These religious “aspirations and taboos” seem as fascinating and relevant today as they did hundreds of years ago.
The language of flowers reached its apex in Europe in the 1700s. While researching this legendary language I began to connect historical meanings of specific flowers directly with the qualities describing each Sin and Virtue. It seemed a natural fit to use flowers as symbols in this series.
As an illuminator, I envisioned these works as jewel-like, thus my decision to use 23 carat raised gold as embellishment. Gilding lifted them from paintings to illuminations, after the medieval icons and manuscripts I so admire. This work is also my homage to the spellbinding “Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta”, a hand made book created between 1560 and 1590 by one scribe and one illuminator.
The melding of these concepts happened organically. As the ideas took shape, I began making lists of descriptions, characteristics, flowers, images, animals and objects for each Sin and Virtue. Using the lists as springboards, I started sketching and developed the series as a whole in passes. The first pass involved adapting the sketches to line drawings, which I transferred onto 400# Fabriano hot press paper. Next, I gilded all 14 pieces with 23 carat raised gold. Using a handheld magnifying glass, I carefully painted the main elements in each piece, then followed with the smaller elements, backgrounds, shading, tooling, detail and polishing.
Committed to a looming exhibition deadline, the process was consuming in every way and stretched me as an artist. I conclude that the seduction of the dark side and struggle for the light create a tension that supports and guides our evolving consciousness. I discovered the innocence in Sin, the guilt in Virtue and the beauty and humanity in both. It is empowering to me, professionally and personally, to have accomplished a long held goal in the presentation of this series.