Virtues in the time of corona

The first thing that greets visitors to the TIMESCAPE exhibition is a large plaster ceiling from the mid-1600s.

  •  (Foto/Photo)

The ceiling depicts the seven virtues: faith, charity, hope, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance. The virtues are depicted as female figures whose characteristics reflect the values and thought of the 17th century. Do the virtues still speak to us today? 

When people of the 17th century looked up at the ceiling, the virtues were a reminder of exemplary ideals of how they should act for their own and for the common good:

  • Tro holder kors og bok, en oppfordring: «Frykt Gud, følg hans bud!» (Foto/Photo)
    Faith is holding a cross and a book, a call to: “Fear God and keep his commandments!” Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 1 av 7)
  • Kjærlighet omslutter to små barn som tegn på Guds kjærlighet til menneskene og omsorgen de selv skylder sine medmennesker. (Foto/Photo)
    Charity is embracing two small children as a sign of God’s love for mankind and the care we ourselves owe to our fellow humans. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 2 av 7)
  • Håp med anker gir den gudfryktige håp om frelse. (Foto/Photo)
    Hope, with an anchor, gives those who fear God a hope of salvation. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 3 av 7)
  • Rettferdighet med sverd og vektskål minner om at brudd på Guds og Kongens lov vil bli hardt straffet, og at handlinger – gode som onde – vil bli veid mot hverandre. (Foto/Photo)
    Justice with her sword and scales reminds us that breaking the laws of God and the King will lead to harsh punishment, and that acts – both good and evil – will be balanced against each other. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 4 av 7)
  • Visdom har to slanger som et tvetydig symbol på maktens doble ansikt: evne til å ta kloke avgjørelser og fristelsen til å misbruke makt. (Foto/Photo)
    Prudence has two snakes as an ambiguous symbol of the two faces of power: the ability to make wise decisions and the temptation to abuse power. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 5 av 7)
  • Styrke holder fast i en søyle, et tegn på motet som kreves for å forsvare seg mot fiender og fare. (Foto/Photo)
    Fortitude is holding on to a pillar, a sign of the courage required to defend oneself against enemies and danger. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 6 av 7)
  • Måtehold blander vann og vin i to krukker og har et klart budskap: ikke karr til deg mer enn det du har krav på! Samfunnsgodene må fordeles rettferdig. (Foto/Photo)
    Temperance is mixing water and wine in two jars and has a clear message: do not be greedy, show restraint from acquiring more than is your due! The distribution of rewards must be just. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum (Bilde 7 av 7)

Is the collective voluntary effort in society now, an expression of virtues at the present time? When the corona virus suddenly turned the world on its head, it was the spirit of cooperation which brought us together. Are the values we attach to this community effort as self-evident to us as the virtues were for people of the 17th century? Collective voluntary effort implies solidarity, fellowship and care. Support for these values is expressed by following a few simple rules: “Wash your hands, keep your distance, help others, stay at home if you can!” 

Faith, charity, hope, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance – the current crisis raises many questions about values, which make the virtues in the 17th century ceiling current and timeless expressions of universal human values. 

You can read more about the plaster ceiling and the seven virtues here:

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