Hourglass

My favorite painting: Tessa Hadley

Author Tessa Hadley chooses A Dance to the Music of Time by Nicolas Poussin.

Tessa Hadley on A Dance to the Music of Nicolas Poussin’s Time

‘What do I love so much about this enigmatic little painting by Poussin? When I meet her after a pilgrimage to the beautiful spaces of The Wallace Collection, I have the impression of having arrived at the center of something: an initiation into the mysteries.

The four seasons dance in a circle; the painting is so still, yet full of movement, and Poussin’s bright, sandy colors are so sensuous. I love the flow of the dance around the spinning figures, the melancholic cherubs and the musician, the dark sky, Apollo’s chariot cutting a gash of light through the clouds.

Tessa Hadley is an author and speaker at this year’s Hay Festival (May 26-June 5)

Tessa Hadley

Charlotte Mullins comments on A Dance to the Music of Time

There is a stillness and an order in all of Nicolas Poussin’s work. A dance to the music of time presents four figures revolving in an inverted ring next to a sculpted herm. A winged man strums a tune on a lyre and two putti frame the scene. But despite all this action, the figures seem motionless: the draperies float in rhythmic folds and the feet hover above the ground in perfect balance. It’s as if they were carved in stone. This is perhaps not surprising, as these figures are based on the Borghese Dancers (2nd century BC), a classical relief sculpture much admired by Poussin.

A dance to the music of time is an allegory of time and its rapid passage. The four figures represent the changing seasons throughout the year and the winged musician is Father Time himself. The two putti blow bubbles and hold an hourglass, symbols of brevity. The male figure of Autumn is Bacchus, god of wine, and he is not the only Roman god in the painting: Apollo travels the sky in his solar chariot in pursuit of Aurora, goddess of dawn.

painted chick A dance to the music of time for Giulio Rospigliosi, who later became Pope Clement IX. Although born in France, Poussin spent much of his career in Italy. He worked for scholarly patrons who admired his harmonious compositions and masterful use of color. Ultramarine, russet orange and warm yellow run through this painting, merging into the soft early morning sky.