I first encountered one of Sargent’s preliminary sketches for The Unveiling of Truth, part of his grand murals in the MFA’s Rotunda, when I was an art student and an MFA Ambassador. As an artist, I am drawn to ambiguity, things that are not easily defined or explained. This veiled figure has no specified gender, time, or place, and could be mythological or modern, inviting us to wonder.
The finished mural for The Unveiling of Truth differs from the sketch by including a second figure lifting the fabric, perhaps unveiling a discovery. The position of this mural, above the door to what was the Museum’s library, suggests the entrance below might lead to answers. Flanked by murals of Philosophy and Science, Truth may promise scholarly revelations. Above these paintings, Sargent includes a mural of the Danaïdes, fated in perpetuity to carry water to a basin that will never fill. Nearby, the mural of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders reinforces this theme of continual struggle. Together, the murals signal that the pursuit of truth is an ongoing, mutable, and often punishing quest. I see them as affirmations that art will always have meaning, and it rewards us with more meaning each time we revisit it, especially in times of change.
In Sargent’s original sketch, Truth has autonomy. No one else uncovers and proclaims: “This is the truth!” Instead, Truth simply exists. Following the 2016 American presidential election’s rhetoric, Sargent’s works reinforce the worthy pursuit of truth. They suggest that the search is important and facts matter. Can truth lead to shared understanding, and remain a higher ideal? Will truth reveal itself, or will it remain unseen? Will it simply be ignored?
Update January 25, 2017 10:40 pm
Among the 1580 likes and individual comments on this Instagram post, here are some highlights:
justinfortu I thought this was a meme.