Allegories in Art II: Hope, True Love & Charity

I. Hope [1886] by George Frederic Watts

This painting depicts Hope, sitting crouched and blind-folded on a globe, trying to obtain a melody through the only string left in her lyre. It is a very powerful, though melancholy, depiction of the never-dying feeling. Hope clings desperately to something, anything, refusing to give up even when odds are clearly stacked against a person. As long as Hope hears a melody through the lyre, there can never be complete hopelessness.

The muted dark colours surrounding Hope makes the depiction even sadder, and the blind-fold and the globe further emphasise Hope’s helplessness, loneliness and isolation. There is a lone star above her head, twinkling, but it is hardly perceived. However, it is there, and Hope manages to distil and hear a melody through her instrument, meaning that not all is lost.

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Allegories in Art I: The Passage of Time

I. A Dance to the Music of Time [c. 1638-40] by Nicolas Poussin

This colourful painting shows four differently-dressed figures who dance to “the Music of Time”, with Time represented by an old man with wings playing a lyre. The figures’ hands are inter-locked and they are supposed to be in a perpetual motion, symbolising the cycle of life. They dance near a pillar topped by a double-faced Janus, the god of beginnings, transitions and endings. One of his heads is facing the future, while the other is facing the past. On the right, a putto holds an hourglass, while on the left, a putto is carelessly blowing bubbles, further alluding to the transience of human life. The painting scene takes place in the morning since Aurora, the goddess of dawn, leads the way for Apollo’s chariot through the sky. In turn, Apollo holds in his hands the Zodiac ring, and the Horae, the goddess of the seasons, conclude the procession.

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