The Voyage Of Life: Symbolic And Stunning
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The Voyage Of Life: Symbolic And Stunning

Four Pieces of Art that Showcase the Joy, Hardships, and Glory of Life.

The Voyage Of Life: Symbolic And Stunning

Before I begin discussing this work of art, I'd like to advise everyone who lives near the D.C area to visit the National Gallery of Art. It has artwork for everyone to enjoy and it's the best museum in the D.C. area... and it's also free. Now that I'm finished geeking out about the gallery, now it's time to geek out over these works of art.

Thomas Cole's "The Voyage of Life" has four different pieces divided by different segments of our life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. It depicts the journey a baby boy takes on a raft of time through the metaphorical river of life. Cole paints intricate backgrounds for the separate segments to add to the meaning of how life changes on top of physical aging. The vibrant and lush surroundings of Childhood are in direct contrast of the gloomy, dark ocean of Old Age. Cole asserted that landscape paintings could impart moral and religious values (link) and the message of faith in times of hardship is the message Cole was aiming for.


The first painting sets the common themes for the next three. The child wades out on the "River of Life" on a vessel that illustrates the deities of time (the front of the canoe has a figure holding an hour glass). The guiding angel leads him out of a dark cave, highlighting the mystery of human conception, into the vibrant world ahead. The landscape shows the playfulness a child views the outside world. The child is ready to explore the new world it has just discovered.


Now, the adolescent has taken control of the vessel with the angelic figure giving her best wishes, much like a parent watching their child leave to college. A cloudy palace is placed before the voyager to show the ambitions of fame and glory most people that age have. The scenery remains vibrant and alive to align with the adolescents world view. But the imagery of the palace being a cloud showcases how these dreams are mere illusions to the winding river of life that will soon turn turbulent.


The tone has changed. Now the voyager is bent down praying for protection in front of a turbulent passage on the river. His guardian angel now watches over him from above, knowing he must face these trials alone. The demons of suicide, hatred, and envy loom over him towards the middle of the painting. The colors are harsher and it seems the world has changed to a more dreary and dark place. To reach the tranquil ocean, he must survive the hardships of adulthood, depicted as the dangerous passage ahead of him.

Old Age

The hour glass at the front of the vessel has broken off, signifying that the voyager is out of time. He now rests in a more relaxed state with his hands remaining clasped to signify that he remained faithful till the end. The turbulent trials of manhood have ended and the river of life ends at the calm sea. His guardian angel returns to guide him on a new journey. A basking light, emanating with angelic figures, shines on him to show that he has been granted the ultimate gift: eternal life.

These analyses only scratch the surface of these masterfully drawn paintings. I truly recommend taking a closer look at each of these paintings to find out your own interpretations of the varying symbolism and metaphors utilized by Thomas Cole. It's this personal detective work that makes art appreciation really worthwhile.

The Voyage of Life is the perfect example of art that is more than just beautiful images but a means of transmitting a message... and I have no doubt that its message will remain timeless.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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