Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Woman Made of Stone

     A veil of light drifted over her marble-skinned beauty, the gentle folds of her flowered headdress and her belted tunic. Her glad tambourine was silenced; her jubilation was stilled. The hall where she sat, head bowed in surrender, eyes opaque as death, was as hushed as a graveyard. I do not know her name, but I can tell her story.

     Her father was the son of a prostitute. She was his only child.

     His brothers, the sons of his father’s lawful wife, wanted no part of him and drove him away from his home and inheritance to make a life and a family for himself, if he could. She became his life and his family. She was his legacy. She was proud of her father because he was brave and daring. Men followed him, and he made a name for himself.

     His name was Jephthah.

     When foreign soldiers came from the east bringing a plague of death to the land, his brothers went to him, begging him to return home to fight for them and for their kinsmen, promising to make him their chief. So Jephthah went to war, invoking the name of his God for victory in battle and making an ominous promise in recompense.

      “If you will…then I will…”

     She was the only child of a fond, foolish father whose ill-considered promise would condemn her to death. She would never know the warmth of a lover’s embrace or breathe of the sweetness of a baby’s skin. All the dreams and passions, the expectant joys of a young woman’s life were tragically cut short—made more terrible because her death was so worthless and wanton.

     I stood before her effigy and marveled at the poetry, power and wisdom of the hands that had formed her, echoes of another ancient forming from dust and from bone. Chauncey Bradley Ives’ bones may have crumbled to dust in a distant Roman graveyard, but his creation lingers. I studied the intricate details of her headdress, the folds of marble that give the illusion of cloth and I thought: How is this possible?
     Each time that I visit the Art Institute of Chicago I stop by to see her, sit with her, contemplate her sorrow and beauty, and marvel at the skill that it took to carve this unnamed maiden’s story into unwieldy, unyielding stone.

Jephthah's Daughter by Chauncey Bradley Ives - Art Institute of Chicago
Story of Jephthah from Judges 11


  1. An amazing statue, so beautiful.

  2. The carving details are wonderful!

  3. Your first paragraph is almost like a poem in itself! The statue is beautiful how can man make something so exquisite in its detail - it looks like she has been frozen in time and at night comes alive and walks around the museum only to return to her marble stand as dawn breaks. Wonderful.

  4. Your post is perfectly lovely (as they all are), a fitting remembrance of this story, one I'm unfamiliar with. I read it to my husband and he had to admit he could not remember Jephthah either. And he hates to admit something like that so I'm sure he'll be checking Judges 11 out a little more carefully this time.

    I think we both would have paid a little better attention in Sunday school if you had written the lesson text!

  5. This is truly an exceptional piece of sculpture – so much feeling and mastery is shown in this maiden. The story you tell is also very tragic – I did not know of it.