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Valentin de Boulogne, 'The Four Ages of Man', about 1629

Key facts
Full title The Four Ages of Man
Artist Valentin de Boulogne
Artist dates 1591 - 1632
Date made about 1629
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.5 × 134 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the 2nd Viscount Bearsted through the Art Fund, 1938
Inventory number NG4919
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Four Ages of Man
Valentin de Boulogne

The four stages of human life are represented by figures with objects relating to their age. Childhood holds an empty bird trap, showing his innocence and naivety: he has let the bird escape. Youth plays a lute, symbolising pleasure and desire. Adulthood in armour wears a victor’s laurel wreath and cradles a book. Old Age is positioned next to coins signifying greed, and holds a glass symbolising the fragility of life. The table and background are plain and mostly in shadow. The strong lighting reveals the facial features of each figure, all but one of whom stare solemnly out of the painting. Adulthood looks down, supporting his head on one arm.

Groups of figures around a table were common in the work of Caravaggio (1571–1610) and his northern followers. Valentin was influenced by these artists, and painted many tavern and concert scenes.

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