14. Scaling Palace Walls

Our youngest and I go on an expedition back to Blenheim Palace. On the way to Blenheim, we pass through the village of Bladon where Winston Churchill is buried. A large Ukrainian flag sits atop the village’s church bell tower. I think Winston would approve. Our youngest received her first ‘big girl’ camera and she wants to practice taking photos at a place she knows well. We wander around the gardens and then into the palace. A few months earlier we visited the palace and inquired about Prudence. I asked if there are any paintings or statues of Prudence or Prudentia? The volunteers I spoke with at the time said no. No Prudence. Today we enter the palace under watchful eyes and through large doors. A volunteer with bright red lipstick and joyful eyes shows the rather large door key to a young child standing just inside the door. She handles herself and the key like she owns the place. I instantly like this woman. She seems to know the palace well. I try one more time. Does she know of any images of Prudence in the palace? She pauses, thinks for minute and smiles. The wearer of bright red lipstick and holder of the key says, “yes, yes I do! Come with me.” 

With our cameras in hand, we follow her as she quickly meanders her way from room to room. She leads us into the State Dining Room which is in the centre of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. She points up. We look up at the ceiling of the dining room, which is an ode to peace, dramatic as it is beautiful. In the centre of the painting is Prudence wrapped in green placed in front of the 1st Duke. Prudence points to the mirror she holds, asking for her subject, the 1st Duke of Marlborough to look into her mirror and see himself and those around him in the light of truth. Know thyself. Where is Prudence? She is placed in the heart of one of the greatest palaces in Britain and the world. She sees everything and says nothing. She is hiding in plain sight. She points to her mirror asking that we look at our past and present with honesty to light our way forward. Resemble, reflect and reveal. Without Prudence we are left to our own devices in the dark. She is an important and meaningful allegorical figure and the people that built and decorated this home thought so too.

Light and shadow. Mirrors and reflections. Prudence is the charioteer of all virtues. I am a woman who has spent my life mirroring and reflecting others. I have a feeling that following Prudence across oceans and down alleyways is going to help change that. My daughter and I stand in the centre of the State Dining room in a great palace as tourists with backpacks and cameras swirl around us. We focus our lenses on Prudence, hoping to capture her image and take it home with us, and we do. Today we have found Prudence right on our doorstep, but I still feel that I haven’t found what I’m looking for. Prudence points the way and I keep searching. 

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