A Valentine’s Day Tryst with the Seven Deadly Sins on this first day of Lent

Valentine’s day coincides this year, for the first time in almost three quarters of a century, with the first day of Lent (Western).





Untitled, 2005, plaster, paint, wood, metal, paper, cloth, twine and pencil.  Cy Twombly, 1928-2011, American.  MOMA, NY 

I have no more idea what this piece is about than I know what any of Cy Twombly’s work is about.  And I don’t like it any more either.

But I like the word ‘snafu’:  an American military acronym dating from WW2: Status Normal: All Fucked Up.  That is:  a shambles. As usual.  



Eros, bored with all the heavy Lent discussion about sins and penance, has fallen asleep.



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Eros Sleeping, bronze, Hellenistic, 3rd-2nd BCE.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



So no ordinary tryst this year. None of  that lovey-dovey stuff I mean…….




Tryst, c. 1990, acrylic on canvas.  Lance Balderson, American born 1941.  Philadelphia Art Museum



It’s the extraordinary tryst this year and it’s with the Seven Deadly Sins. 

They approach at midnight between Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, spreading ash to the right and to the left…… 


The Seven Deadly Sins

painted by Paul Cadmus, 1904-1999, American

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


It is interesting to note that of the seven deadly sins, three have names which are no longer in common English parlance:  avarice, gluttony, and sloth.

And of these three, two we no longer consider sins or deadly.

Avarice or greed which according to the former stock trader, Ivan Boesky, is good.  His indictment and conviction for insider trading has not tarnished this evaluation. On the contrary.

Gluttony.  It’s all you can consume now of whatever it is you want to consume. The word is all but unknown.

Sloth or laziness: this would seem to be the only one of the three which continues to to be a major moral failing on the north American continent, at least. 

The four remaining sins are still common English words and are still deadly. 


Kind of.  Depending, of course, how rich and important you are. 

Gender may play a role here also, dare I say?  But….why step into those troubled waters?

The richer, the less deadly, the less sinful.  The more these become idiosyncracies, difficult character traits, something for lawyers and publicists to re-present and re-define if need be.  Paying off the victims to be quiet if all else fails.


This has been true since Sapiens systematized all this, of course.


But it is so flamboyantly true today.  Flashing seductively from every screen.






Lust, egg tempera on Masonite, 1945





Pride, 1945, egg tempera on gessoed linen




Envy, 1947, egg tempera on Masonite




Anger, 1947, egg tempera on Masonite




Avarice, 1947, egg tempera on cardboard




Sloth, 1947, egg tempera on Masonite




Gluttony, 1947, egg tempera on cardboard


The original words were: Repent, repent …….And kiss and say sorry……




The Kiss, 1927, oil on canvas.  Max Ernst, 1891-1976, Swiss.  Solomon R.Guggenheim, NY



Or look where you could end up:





The Disappointed Souls, 1892, oil on canvas.  Ferdinand Hodler, 1853-1918, Swiss.  Loaned by the Kunstmuseum, Bern to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibition in 2017 on the Rosicrucians




Cupid, meanwhile, is not happy about these ashy people emerging on his special day.  

His view is that you should never have abandoned the old gods……….




A detail of Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze (love needs food and wine to thrive).



And love, he says, needs to be nourished continuously.


All this self-flagellation and penance and weepy-droopy all over the house.  He wants to know what the point is because Lovers All have split when you abandoned them for this gloom……………. 


40 days of moaning,  groaning and abstinence?   No wine?  Seriously? 





Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze (love needs food and wine to thrive); 1600-1603; a drawing of unparalleled skill by Hendrik Goltzius, 1558-1617, German-born Dutch.  Ink made with a burin.  Philadelphia Art Musuem.





One thought on “A Valentine’s Day Tryst with the Seven Deadly Sins on this first day of Lent

  1. Wonderful way to begin this double edged day. Thank you for such finds and linkages.

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