Smart Museum of Art
Apollo Leading the Four Seasons in a Dance, 1662
Etching and engraving
Apparently, harmony reigns in Claude's Apollo Leading the Four Seasons in a Dance; lush, peaceful surroundings are the perfect stage for dancing, and goats graze placidly. Two elements, however, threaten this blissful setting, serving as ominous reminders of the nature of life and the inexorable march of time. First, a group of ruins in the background symbolizes the ravages of the passing years: where a palace on top of the hill used to dominate the landscape, there is nothing left but a few columns and walls invaded by vegetation and sheep. Second, the winged figure playing the lyre, slightly to the left of the carefree group, is not simply an angel but--as his beard and white hair indicate--a personification of Time, a clear reminder of mortality. What at first glance appears to be a perfectly gay and jolly dance is disturbed, though not undermined, by details closely associated with the danse macabre--in which a representation of death leads people to their final end--and the tradition of vanitas imagery, which uses bubbles, burning candles, wilted flowers and timepieces to remind us of our mortality.