Isabella's Syndrome

Botticelli's Ghost, Digital Something - © R. Koleilat, 2008
Do you know the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston? It’s one of the many pleasurable finds in that amazing city. Gardner was an avid art collector, and she bequeathed her vast treasure of works by the Old Masters for all of Boston (and the world) to enjoy – with strings attached: The precious collection was to be housed in her mansion, also part of the legacy, and no object in the collection or the mansion could ever be moved or removed; or else the whole kit and caboodle would be sold and the proceeds would go to Harvard University.

I recently came across dear Isabella again in a book that had nothing to do with art but everything to do with transition and change. The authors*, both eager de-clutterers, use what they delightfully term the “The Isabella Gardner Syndrome” as a parable for (the sometimes irrational but still perfectly understandable) fear of change. In a cheeky aside to a chapter about "finding a good home" for no-longer-relevant belongings, they talk about Isabella’s obsession thusly: “Needless to say, everything in the [museum] has remained unchanged, even to the blank space on the wall where a Vermeer painting hung before it was stolen. In her final years, she would sometimes rear up in her bed and cry out, “You there! Don’t touch!” to imaginary strangers. Her ghost is said to return to the museum once a month to make sure everything is exactly as she left it.”

Don’t we all have a little bit of Isabella in us? When faced with the unfamiliar, when a new path has to be taken, we often wish we could be as imperious as her and decree that nothing shall ever change. Luckily for me, I’ve learned that change is almost always for the better – or at the very least, I can will it to be so.
And now, a profound profundity to end this post: if things never changed, all we'd have would be caterpillars and not even one butterfly. So there.

*Culbertson, J. and Decker, M. – “Scaling Down”