I have been to the Wallace Collection in London this week to look at the work by Nicolas Poussin “A dance to the music of time (below). A Dance to the Music of Time is a painting by Nicolas Poussin in the Wallace Collection in London. It was painted between 1634 and 1636 as a commission for Giulio Rospigliosi (later Pope Clement IX), who according to Gian Pietro Bellori dictated its detailed iconography. It is best known for giving its name to the novel cycle of the same name, though this title is first seen in a Wallace Collection catalogue of 1913, before which it was given more prosaic titles referring to the Four Seasons.
Four figures, holding each other by the hand, dance in a circle, as Time plays a lyre on the right. The scene is set in the early morning, with Aurora, goddess of dawn, preceding the chariot of Apollo the sun-god in the sky behind; the Hours accompany him and he holds a ring representing the Zodiac. According to Bellori, Rospigliosi’s original idea was inspired by Boitet de Frauville’s’Les Dionysiaques’, which describes the passing of time and the cycle of the seasons. According to this story, the god Jupiter (Greek Zeus) gave Bacchus and wine to the world in order to compensate for the miserable living conditions mortals must endure after Time and the Seasons complained. The male dancer with the crown of twigs was originally intended to represent the god Bacchus as well as the season Autumn, followed by Winter, Spring and Summer. As Poussin developed the painting, however, this theme gradually transformed into the concept of the cycle of life and fortune.
Meanwhile back in the studio we have three models recreating Antonia Canova’s three graces. The three slender female figures become one in their embrace, united by their linked hands and by a scarf which links them. The unity of the Graces is one of the piece’s main themes. In Countess Josephine’s version, the Graces are on a sacrificial alter adorned with three wreaths of flowers and a garland symbolizing their fragile, close ties.
Unlike the statue of the three graces (see the Duke of Bedfords version above) we rapidly work through drawings with models continually moving in a dance bringing together the dance to the music of time with the ideas of trinity and charity within the three graces. The drawings therefore retain a sense of emergence from movement.