This painting is an “elaborate fiction” commissioned by a grieving widower.

My mom and I visited the North Carolina Museum of Art during Christmas holidays. It’s an amazing collection of works of art. As we viewed a gallery, took some photos (without a flash) and read the notes at the side of each painting, a  commentary struck me:

“… an ideal image of himself, the self he wishes to bequeath to posterity.”

Unlike photos, where we might be caught unaware and exactly as we are, commissioned paintings were meant to present an ideal.

The painting above is of the Pepperrell Family, painted by John Singleton Copely. This family – one of the wealthiest in Boston –  was loyal to England, and was exiled around the time of the American Revolution. (1776) When the painting was commissioned, two of its figures were gone.

Lady Pepperrell died “tragically” (I don’t know the story because it isn’t listed), and her husband commissioned the portrait of the family to appear as “a comforting vision of what might have been had not war and death come knocking.”  The baby boy between the mom and dad had also died.

A nobleman.  A soldier.  A Cardinal

Three other commissioned paintings showed men in the light they wanted to be seen:  a haughty air of nobility, an attitude of courageousness, and a demeanor of sanctimonious piety.

How do we appear?

Your spouse sees you – all the time. 

He or she sees you when you’re fighting a cold and your nose is a pretty shade of crimson. You’re seen when you’re dressed to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the fanciest hotel in your town. Your spouse has seen you clothed and unclothed, at the peak and when your appearance is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

There’s no “elaborate fiction” in a marriage relationship.

Chances are, most of us will not be commissioning a wall-sized portrait done in oils in 2013. Any photos that are taken will document our life.

But what really becomes our legacy?

Our relationships become our gift to the next generation.

Photos or paintings evoke an emotion. I’m sure that Sir Pepperell gazed at his commissioned painting with longing, because no matter what he did, he couldn’t make the composition a reality. I don’t know if he and his wife had a loving relationship. Perhaps.

Forget about appearing as the ideal image – work on living.

Image doesn’t matter. Action matters.

If you and your spouse have a solid, loving and work-able relationship (notice I didn’t say “perfect”), your legacy to your children and grandchildren’s grandchildren will outlast any photo or painting. It’s called blessing.

No need to pretend or project “an ideal image… to bequeath to posterity” – you’ll have lived it.

What are you doing – today – to make your relationship with your spouse… more?

Here are a few ideas, in no specific order:

  • Pray with your spouse – an active prayer life combats fear
  • Smile. Smile at your spouse.
  • Be kind. Expect nothing – just be kind.
  • Listen. If you’re far away from your spouse in distance, a listening ear is like a virtual hug.
  • Encourage. Put courage into your spouse – it has to start somewhere, why not with you?

This list is pretty simple – but the simple ideas are often the keys that open locked doors…

Leave a comment – add to the list!  

What else could you do to add to a good relationship with your spouse?

Linking up with

My Daily Walk in His Grace

Rediscovering Domesticity

Leaving a Legacy

Wedded Wednesday