Time, the winged figure holding an hourglass, orders his companion Old Age to disfigure the face of a young woman, the personification of Beauty. This interaction encourages us to consider the brevity of youth and the inevitable passing of time.
Batoni often drew from a live model when preparing his paintings: perhaps the aged face of the balding and bearded Time, and the wrinkled complexion and leathery, tanned skin of Old Age were inspired by the models who sat to him. Equally, though, the classical art that surrounded Batoni in Rome was a major influence on his work: here, both Time and Beauty’s poses are based on classical statues. Time’s wings seem to emulate the soft texture of feathers as well as the hard stone of a sculpture.
This work and its companion piece An Allegory of Lasciviousness (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) were commissioned by Bartolomeo Talenti, one of several noblemen from Lucca who supported Batoni’s early career during the early 1740s.
An angelic young woman – the personification of Beauty – has caught the attention of two figures. Time, the winged man holding an hourglass, points towards her and orders his companion, Old Age, to disfigure her face. Beauty recoils as the old woman lunges towards her. This interaction encourages us to consider the brevity of youth and the inevitable passing of time.
The subject is an unusual one for an eighteenth-century painting, but the figure of Time does appear in other allegorical subjects by Batoni, as well as those by other artists during this period, like Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s An Allegory with Venus and Time and Jean-François de Troy’s Time unveiling Truth.
Batoni often drew from a live model when preparing his paintings: perhaps the sharply foreshortened face of the balding and bearded Time, and the wrinkled complexion and leathery, tanned skin of Old Age were inspired by the models who sat to him. He was also inspired by the work of seventeenth-century artists. Marcantonio Raimondi’s print of the Judgement of Paris (about 1610–20) was the source for the figure of Time, whose pose reverses that of Paris. The figure of Beauty adapts the pose of François Duquesnoy’s statue of Saint Susannah (1629) in the church of San Maria di Loreto, Rome. The figures in these works of art and in Batoni’s painting are based on the study of classical statues, which were in plentiful supply in Rome: the figure of Time has an idealised body and his wings seem to emulate the soft texture of feathers and the hard stone of a sculpture. A strong light illuminates Beauty’s pale face and emphasises the darker skin of Time and Old Age, as well as the rich colours of the figures' robes. This lighting contrasts with their shadowy, cave-like surroundings and the softer, failing light covering the landscape beyond.
This work and its pendant An Allegory of Lasciviousness (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) were commissioned by the collector Bartolomeo Talenti, one of several noblemen from Lucca who supported Batoni’s early career during the early 1740s. The commission is first referred to in a letter of 4 July 1744 from Batoni to the patron, and the painting is signed and dated on the rock on the right: P.B. 1746. An old collection inventory number can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner of the canvas – this was added in 1798, when the painting was acquired by the Russian prince Alexander Andréevitch Besborodko.
As his career progressed, Batoni continued to paint religious and allegorical subjects. He became one of the most sought after portraitists in eighteenth-century Rome and was commissioned mostly by Grand Tourists travelling in Italy, producing work such as Portrait of Richard Miles and Portrait of John Scott (?) of Banks Fee.
Download an 800px wide, 72dpi copy of this image.
License and download a high resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.
Examples of non-commercial use are:
The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.
As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.
You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.