The Wallace Collection

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A Dance to the Music of Time
  • Nicolas Poussin (1594 - 1665)
  • A Dance to the Music of Time
  • Italy
  • c.1634 - c.1636
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 82.5 x 104 cm
    Object size: 108.5 x 130 x 8 cm
  • P108
  • Great Gallery
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • Although trained in Paris, the French painter Nicholas Poussin spent most
    of his career in Rome. This painting was created for a Roman patron, Giulio
    Rospigliosi, later Pope Clement IX. A circle of figures who symbolise the
    Seasons dance to the music played by Father Time on his lyre. Autumn,
    usually represented by a woman, is here represented as Bacchus, the god
    of wine. Two putti, one blowing bubbles and the other holding an hour glass,
    allude to the transience of human life; the double-headed herm, depicting the
    youthful and mature Bacchus, points its old head towards the dance, while its
    young head looks out of the composition to the future. In the sky, the sun god
    Apollo rides across the morning sky in his chariot, preceded by Aurora (dawn) and followed by the Hours.
    The exact meaning of the composition is not known. The subject originally
    derived from a passage in Les Dionysiaques by Claude Boitet de
    Frauville, which describes how, following the complaints of Jupiter and the
    Seasons, Jupiter gave Bacchus and his gift of wine to alleviate human suffering.
    However, the dancing figures came to be more generally associated with the
    perpetual cycle of the human condition itself: from poverty to labour to riches
    and then to pleasure, which, if indulged to excess, reverts to poverty.
    The painting remained in Rospigliosi’s Roman residence, where it was last
    recorded in 1713. It was later bought by Cardinal Fesch, uncle of Napoleon
    Bonaparte, from whose sale it was bought by the 4th Marquess of Hertford
    in 1845.