What is That Painting on Your Site?


I remember seeing this painting for the first time in an art exhibition in Canberra, Australia in 2019. It was an exhibit of the Pre-Raphaelites, which are favorites of mine, and yet I had never heard of it before. It was quite striking because it is absolutely huge: according to the gallery stats, it's over twelve feet tall (3700x1640 mm). I just stood before it, transfixed.

The painting is called "Fortitude," and it is by Edward Burne-Jones (begun in 1878). It's a riveting image not only because of its immense size, but because it is so odd-looking. The warrior who is guarding a castle is a woman with long, stringy gray hair and strange light, almost white, eyes. Her shield has been pierced by many arrows. Yet she holds her sword in repose, for she has vanquished her foes, and their broken armor and lances lies below her. She is not dressed in any finery, but very simply and plainly, and we see armor on her forearm. She is barefoot, and while she is in an attitude of rest, her eyes are alert and watchful.

Yes, we understand why the artist sees this woman as the image of the virtue fortitude. She has seen much toil and strife, but she has been true and faithful to the charge given her, and she has overcome all. She did not conquer for vainglory, but to safeguard what was placed in her care. She will stand steadfast in that place until her dying breath; she's not planning on taking a vacation from her responsibility. It seems so fitting that Burne-Jones imagined fortitude to be best personified as a woman.

What is most interesting is that Burne-Jones chose not just any woman, but an old woman to represent fortitude. This is the Crone. This is the wise woman every family and community needs as its guardian. I'm sure you can understand, then, why it was chosen as the symbol of the Latterday Crone.