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Providence, Provenance

Providence is “the act of providing” (as Samuel Johnson says) for future needs, and in particular (in fact almost always) God’s care for his creation.

Inscrutable are the ways of providence!

He shall never want, because he believes in a protecting Providence, and in a God that has never forsaken him.

Provenance is where something came from. In the world of art, antiques, or other things of value that people collect, it means the record of the chain of ownership. In archaeology, it usually means an exact record of where an object was found; the alternate form provenience is also commonly used. (Some archaeologists will tell you that provenience is the only correct form in archaeology, and others will tell you that it’s not, and the Editor can only advise you to go by the standards of your university or journal.)

When experts have questions about a work’s authenticity, they will want to see its provenance.

In the museum catalogue its provenance is given as “near southern base of Mound, western court of Main Structure.”

Providence and provenance sound similar when spoken carelessly, and we sometimes see providence used where provenance is meant.

Wrong: Never fails to amaze that there are super-rich people out there willing to shell out millions of dollars for “newly discovered” works by famous artists, even when the providence is so shaky.

Wrong: Efforts to find this story online or to trace its providence have proved to be futile.

In both cases, providence should be provenance.


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