Alphonse Mucha, Prophetess, 1896
Alfons Maria Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czech painter and decorative artist whose work became the face of Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was a movement that encompassed many forms of art, such as commercial art, architecture, furniture, and decorative arts. It combined natural forms (particularly flowers and vines) with modern media and contexts. Mucha's Zodiac (also from 1896) is one of the most famous examples of the style. In general, Mucha's paintings are not as famous as his commercial and decorative works, but Prophetess is still fairly well known. The painting's shape, tempera paint, and setting recall Medieval art, or at least nineteenth century visions of Medieval art. The beautiful figure herself is quite complex. She sits at the edge of this stream quite oblivious to practical concerns; her skirt is getting wet, the water jugs she presumably came to fill sit empty, her dress falls from her shoulder, and yet (perhaps only because of the title) there is a certain wisdom about her. She holds beautiful flowers and ponders the world around her. Prophets, in addition to seeing the future, are known for seeing the deeper truths of situations that most people remain oblivious to. In this light, the woman does not seem flighty or careless, but unperturbed and transcendent. She sits in this beautiful setting and sees the splendor and blessing of this moment.