In 1850, the British painter James Sant unveiled a masterpiece entitled “Courage, Anxiety and Despair: Watching the Battle”. Sant’s painting is a poignant depiction of a spectrum of powerful emotions amid life’s turmoil. Symbols from both Greek mythology and Christianity were used to convey a spiritual message.
The painting depicts three women behind a large rock defending themselves from an unseen enemy. The woman at the center is the beacon of strength. Her forward leaning posture and look of determination personifies courage. She holds a knife in her right hand which she plans to defend herself and the other two women. Around her neck is a necklace made of scallop shells. In Greek mythology, scallop shells were associated with Aphrodite, the goddess who was born of the sea. In Christianity, it is often associated with salvation, as it was used for baptismal waters.
Adjacent to “Courage” is a woman draped in subtle shadows. She captures the essence of anxiety; her eyes are filled with apprehension, almost to the point of tearing. Completing the trio is the woman on the right who personifies despair; she is depicted with a pale face, downcast eyes and somber expression, all of which accentuates the depth of her emotion.
“Courage, Anxiety and Despair” is not just a painting but a mirror of the soul. Through masterful portraiture and use of color, shades and symbols, the painting powerfully captures the spectrum of human emotions, inviting us to reflect on own experience and response to life’s toughest challenges.
James Sant (1820–1916) was a British painter specializing in portraits. A member of the prestigious Royal Academy, he is known particularly for images of women and children and artistic exploration of childhood and emotions.