Lethargy stands with naked feet peeking out from under her long dress, puzzled about what to do (or not to do) next, holding a long, green sock in one hand and a boot in another. Should she continue dressing or maybe just fix her hair, which certainly needs attention: spiky blond locks cascade to her shoulders, exactly in the latest style of today but maybe not in her time…
Sloth also has unruly locks, too worried about the world to think of such a simple thing as combing her hair or changing her torn old dress. With a preoccupied expression on her face, she needs to hold her head in the palm of one hand while that elbow is supported by the other arm. What heavy cares weigh her down?
Vanity boasts an elaborate headdress, full and yellow as a pumpkin and even with the same green stripes. She certainly seems pleased with herself, admiring her face in a hand mirror while she pulls out some blond curls to frame her delicate features. Elegant green sleeves make her figure so much more enviable (she thinks) by the other girls.
Kindness seems to be well set up in life, also crowned and expensively dressed, in a cloak with an ermine lining. What is she holding up for us to see – the locking mechanism from the inside of a treasure chest? She’ll be ready to take care when the time arrives to come up with the goods.
Lust knows how to enjoy herself: a footed goblet in her hand is ready to be filled with intoxicating liquids. The luxurious green dress displays her best features, with the low-cut bodice showing her breasts to advantage - could she be wearing a Wonderbra?
Avarice looks most suspicious, as she clutches a large sack of coins to her breast. Would she be happier if she spent some of that money on a new dress, instead of the old black thing she has on? Then she would blend in better with the society of the other maidens who surround her. Generosity wears a jewelled crown but is willing to share her good fortune: a bulging bag in one hand, some coins in the other, ready for distribution to a deserving cause. But carefully, to make sure that good is done, not like Prodigality, who is already dropping the coins from her sack by the wayside – she won’t hold on to her crown for long with this kind of behaviour!
There they stand in such groups of three, around the walls of the Hall of Vices and Virtues, against the deep red background and on a field of grass blooming with flowers. Allegories drawn from the medieval age, each trio philosophically represents a virtue in the middle of two of its relative vices, one in excess and the other in defect.
The aristocratic maidens are labelled above their heads (Pigrizia, Accidia, Avarizia, Vanità, Liberalità, Prodigalità, Sollecitudine, Lussuria etc.) but some words are hard to make out. That is to be expected after almost 600 years, especially as they are written in a strange Gothic script, of the same period as these frescoes in the International Gothic style. The ladies still speak to us of how to behave, just as they did to the inhabitants of the Castello di Masnago in Varese, Italy, so many years ago. But are we ready to learn their lesson, in our debauched and uncultured age?