Truth Coming Out of Her Well

When the Lie puts on the Truth’s dress, and the naked Truth is thrown deep down in the earth—whom of the two would we choose and defend?


Author: Sylvia Borissova

A folktale tells that the Truth and the Lie met once.
“Hello,” said the Lie.
“Hello,” said the Truth.
“It’s a marvelous day today,” the Lie continued. The Truth looked around and, indeed, so it was.
“It’s a marvelous day today,” the Truth agreed.
They walked together for a while, until they finally reached a large well of water. The Lie dipped her hand in the water and turned to the Truth: “The water is nice—let’s take a swim together?”
The Truth, once again suspicious
, dipped her hand in the water: it was really pleasant. The two undressed and went in to bathe. Suddenly the Lie came out of the well, put on the clothes of the Truth, and ran off.
The angry Truth came out naked and rushed on all sides to look for the Lie in order to get her clothes back. The world, seeing the Truth naked, looked back with contempt and rage. Poor Truth returned to the well, away from human eyes, forever hiding her shame.
And since that day, the Lie travels the world clothed as the Truth, and satisfying the needs of society, because the world does not want to meet the naked Truth at all.

In some versions, this beautiful and cruel legend finds a sequel:

One day the Truth met the Parable. She cried her grief, and the Parable advised her:
“Why don’t you dress in words instead of clothes? Dressed up in a fascinating story, you can travel three times the distance and everyone will welcome you.”
The truth agreed with the Parable’s proposal, and to this day the two can often be seen together.

People most often prefer a well-dressed, comfortable lie to an awkward naked truth. This could explain much of the silence and general inaction to the turmoil, problems, and even dangers that await us once we turn from the path of truth and decide to use lies, manipulation, and dishonest ways to achieve our goals.

It is no coincidence, however, that the English Queen Mary Tudor (1496—1533) had as her personal motto the words:

Truth is the daughter of time.

This maxim has its roots in Roman mythology, where Veritas (literally Latin: Truth; Faithfulness) is the goddess of truth, daughter of Saturn, or time, and mother of Virtus (literally Latin: Virtue). Gradually this idea that the truth is always revealed in time, passes into Christianity and appears in various manuscripts during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; and the English philosopher, jurist, politician, and writer Francis Bacon (1561—1626) would supplement it as follows:

Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.

—To show that even the greater power and the stronger voice to spread a lie widely, this is ultimately temporary, because the truth sooner or later invariably comes to light.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth Coming Out of Her Well (1896)
  • In 1896, the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme painted the painting Truth Coming Out of Her Well (La Vérité sortant du puits), which is now in the possession of the Anne de Beaujeu Museum in Moulins, France.
  • The full title of the painting is: “Truth coming out of her well, armed with her whip to punish humanity” (La Vérité sortant du puits armée de son martinet pour châtier l’humanité), inspired by the phrase of Democritus that

we know nothing in reality, for truth lies in an abyss.

  • The artist painted a real well—the one from the Cluny Museum (Musée de Cluny) in Paris, but changed the height of the shaft site by removing the overflow drain figure so that the model has a support. Even the Virginia creeper is real and still adorns the wall to this day; Jerome added only the large lush arum leaves.
  • The idea for the naked model comes from the French expression la vérité nue, ‘naked truth’.
  • The allegorical image of the naked Truth holding a mirror and thrown at the bottom of a well is so enigmatic that the French often call Gérôme’s work “our Mona Lisa.”
  • In his preface to a 1902 volume of the journal The Aesthetic Nude (Le Nu Esthétique) by artist Émile Bayard, Gérôme used the metaphor of the Truth and the well to describe the broad and irreversible influence of photography:

Photography is an art. It forces artists to discard their old routine and forget their old formulas. It has opened our eyes and forced us to see that which previously we have not seen; a great and inexpressible service for Art. It is thanks to photography that Truth has finally come out of her well. She will never go back.

  • Jerome was so attached to his work that he kept it hanging over his bed.
  • The artist was so deeply interested in the subject that he painted a series of paintings in which the Truth is depicted as a naked woman thrown at the bottom of a well or coming out of it. In each of these paintings, the mirror is invariably present as an attribute of the Truth, reflecting the world and human affairs.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/23/G%C3%A9r%C3%B4me_-_La_V%C3%A9rit%C3%A9_au_fond_d%27un_puits.jpg/320px-G%C3%A9r%C3%B4me_-_La_V%C3%A9rit%C3%A9_au_fond_d%27un_puits.jpg Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth at the Bottom of a Well (study for a painting of 1895)https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Gerome_Veritas_1895.jpg   Jean-Léon Gérôme, Mendacibus et histrionibus occisa in puteo jacet alma Veritas (The nurturer Truth lies in a well, having been killed by liars and actors, 1895) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/79/Gerome_verite_lyon.jpg/800px-Gerome_verite_lyon.jpg   Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth Is at the Bottom of the Well (1895)

Sources:

  • Ackerman, G. 1981. Notes autobiographiques présentées et annotées. Vesoul.Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. IX, 72. Perseus Project. Tufts University.
  • Gerome, J.-L. 1896. La Vérité sortant du puits. Source: Segrey Prokopenko, Wikimedia Commons.
  • Gerome, J.-L. 1895. Mendacibus et histrionibus occisa in puteo jacet alma Veritas (The nurturer Truth lies in a well, having been killed by liars and actors). Wikimedia.
  • Gerome, J.-L. 1895. Truth at the Bottom of a Well (study for a painting of 1895). Musée Georges-Garret, Vesoul.
  • Gerome, J.-L. 1895. Truth is at the Bottom of the Well. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.
  • Leclercq, A. 2018. “La légende raconte qu’un jour la vérité et le mensonge se sont croisés…” // PositivR. 13 août. URL: https://positivr.fr/mensonge-verite-sortant-du-puits/
  • Moreau-Vauthier, Ch. 1906. Gérôme peintre et sculpteur l’homme et l’artiste d’après sa correspondance, ses notes, les souvenirs de ces élèves et ses amis. Paris: Librairie Hachette & cie.
  • Noël, B. Hournon, J. 2006. Parisiana: la capitale des peintres au XIXème siècle. Paris: DISLAB. p. 147.

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