A Dance to the Music of Time
According to Bellori, the biographer of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), the subject of "A Dance to the Music of Time", Il Ballo Della Vita Humana an allegory of the flight of time, was at the request of Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, the future Pope Clement IX - a "moral poem."
"a kind of humanised Wheel of Fortune.... where Poverty joins hands with Labour... Wealth... Luxury and dance."
In principle the four parties are all together, although notably facing away. Musical accompaniment provides the rhythm and metre of the dance. Labour on the right almost but not quite joins hands with Wealth. Poverty is male, while the other dancers are female, and has branches as a wreath on his head. Wealth has pearls in her hair, with white and golden draperies, and an arm-band of gold and pearls. Poverty and Labour go barefoot while Wealth and Luxury wear sandals of gold and white respectively. Luxury is dressed in the primary colours of blue and red, while Wealth is in solid colours: gold and silver. Poverty and Labour are in earthier colours. As time moves on so does money, as Wealth is looking towards Time, at whose feet is a boy watching the sands run out of an hour glass; the boy opposite to him sits, blowing soap bubbles. Aurora, goddess of the dawn, a stars to the fore, heralds the chariot of Apollo, driven through the Zodiac, to let in the light of the Sun - weighing in with more symbolism in the sky. The statue at the far left is Janus, the two-faced Roman god. Janus, as nominated gatekeeper of the Zodiac, opened the gates at sunrise and closed them again at sunset. The dancing figures have been associated by some commentators with the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, along with the Zodiac, a feature of astrological clocks such as Henry VIII's Astronomical Clock at Hampton Court Palace
Anthony Powell (1905-2000) was no doubt drawn to the significance of the circular nature of the dance, when he chose the title of the painting for his series of novels "A Dance to the Music of Time:"
- 1951 - A Question of Upbringing
- 1952 - A Buyer's Market
- 1955 - The Acceptance World
- 1957 - At Lady Molly's
- 1960 - Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
- 1962 - The Kindly Ones
- 1964 - The Valley of Bones
- 1966 - The Soldier's Art
- 1968 - The Military Philosophers
- 1971 - Books Do Furnish a Room
- 1973 - Temporary Kings
- 1975 - Hearing Secret Harmonies
In the opening scene of A Question of Upbringing Nicholas Jenkins watches a group of workmen warming themselves round a brazier on a snowy London day, and is reminded of Poussin's dancing figures, and by analogy,
"of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps to control the steps of the dance".
A compositional study, owned by the National Gallery of Scotland, which dates from the mid-1630s, the only known preparatory drawing for A Dance to the Music of Time, in the Wallace Collection - shows Apollo and Aurora emerge from the Zodiac to herald the dawn.