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One of Poussin’s most famous masterpieces, the picture’s complex iconography was probably dictated by its patron Giulio Rospigliosi, later Pope Clement IX. Its first meaning is derived from Boitet de Frauville’s Les Dionysiaques, which describes how, following the complaints of Time and the Seasons, Jupiter gave Bacchus and his gift of wine to the world to alleviate the harsh conditions of human life. The dancing figures represent the Seasons: Autumn, normally shown as a woman, is here represented by the god of wine himself. It is probable that the scene was reinterpreted by Rospigliosi during the process of composition for the dancing figures came to be more generally identified with the perpetual cycle of the human condition itself: from Poverty, Labour leads to Riches and then to Pleasure which, if indulged in to excess, reverts to Poverty.

The Wallace Collection



A Dance to the Music of Time




oil on canvas


H 82.5 x W 104 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

acquired by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, 1845; bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, 1897

Work type



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The Wallace Collection

Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, Greater London W1U 3BN England

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