Truth has, for a long time, been personified in western culture. In ancient greek and roman theology as Aletheia/Veritas, daughter of Cronus/Saturn or Zeus/Jupiter or even made by Prometheus, depending on the sources. She was thought of as living at the bottom of a well or an abyss and usually represented as being saved by Cronus, either from their enemies (like Trickery, Deception, Lies, Falsehood, or Envy) or disrobed by him before History. She was usually dressed in white, covered with a veil, representing her purity, or rather naked – Nuda Veritas -, a representation based on the fable that once she went out swimming with Falsehood, who stole her clothes while she was still in the water and, refusing to wear Falsehood’s clothes, she went naked, a symbol of having nothing to hide. During the Middle Ages, Truth took some other forms, like the Lady Truth (or Reason) guiding and teaching famous authors, but these were few and far apart and mostly forgotten.
Culturally, it’s easy to understand that, with the rise of the Christian faith, Truth didn’t need to be personified, since God or the divine Trinity took over that role.
It’s only with the revitalizing of the classical culture during the pre-modern age (what is usually called the renaissance, although that title is not without issues) that we start seeing this figure again in art like John Bydell’s woodcut, where the well/abyss is still very much present:
Some fifty years after, we can find her in a painting by Annibale Carracci, with the well occupying most of the background, Saturn holding them on the edge of it, and on their hand the mirror (another symbol associated with Truth and that will show up again):
Or in Giuseppe Cesari’s contribution to the famous book by Cesare Ripa, where the well motif has disappeared, but others are shown (like the Sun, also used in Alchemy, the pen, and the world):
By the 17th century, the well has reduced greatly and is almost unseen in Rubens’ painting of the allegory:
Or in François Lemoyne’s representation:
In the 19th century, this allegory is still alive and most of its elements are stable (the well, the mirror, the nakedness), as can be seen in Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry’s La Verité:
Or in Lucien Pallez’s sculpture of the same name, here shown in the plaster version, since the marble version is not in the best condition:
But probably the most famous version of the theme is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s, where the mirror has been replaced with a whip, shown just a year after another version of his, where Truth was shown dead at the bottom of the well, “killed by liars and actors”:
Although it was usually connected to the Dreyfus Affair, Gérôme was actually railing against Impressionism. It is later Édouard Debat-Ponsan that takes this position, with representation of the Church and the military clearly depicted:
Just the year after that, we have Klimt’s luscious version, with the symbols reduced to the mirror and the waters in the well:
And here I’d like to introduce another version, much more recent, and in film – the famous bathroom scene in Kubrick’s The Shining – as a reworking of this theme, with new sensibilities brought into it. At first, we see just the bathtub (here serving as the well) with a shape behind the shower curtains (veil), then those are pulled back and a beautiful woman comes out and starts seducing the already wildly deranged Jack. It is only when he looks at the mirror (another of the allegory’s symbols) that he can see Truth as it is. And here lies the crux of this new take: Truth might look seductive in the beginning, but ultimately we end up finding it ugly and scary:
Unlike the film Room 237 or several websites, there’s no conspiracy or further reading here, but just a visual history of the scene. This doesn’t mean that this was what Kubrick wanted to do, but only an attempt to fit it into the history of Art and interpreting as such.