The Admonishment of Time, ca. 1580
Inscribed on a placard carried by a flying Cupid: Luxuries praedulce malu[m] cui tempus et error accelellra [sic, i.e., accelerant] fatum multos imexutt [sic, i.e., inexuit] hamis merraque [sic, i.e. membraque] Circaeis effeminat acrius herbis (Carnal pleasure, that delicious evil, whose dire outcome time and error bring on more quickly, snares many with its hooks, sapping the energy of the body more ruinously than the herbs of Circe).
Oil on canvas
63 3/8 x 44 3/8 inches (161 x 112.7 cm)
[Sale] Christie's New York, October 5, 1995. lot 80 (as Jacob de Backer)
With Jack Kilgore & Company, New York, by 1997
[Sale] Sotheby's New York, June 6, 2012, lot 17 (as Attributed to Jacob de Backer)
The Latin text on the placard, with some edits and misspellings, is derived from the Roman poet Claudian's Consulship of Stilicho. II, 132ff.
This unusual subject presents an apparently unprecedented personification of Father Time. Here he is shown not as the traditional irascible graybeard with a scythe, but as a robust man in midlife crowned with a garland of fruit. That he represents Time is confirmed by an engraving after this painting by Hieronymus Wierix published around 1610-1615, which shows him with his traditional scythe. Perhaps Wierix wanted to be sure that this figure was correctly understood by viewers who might not otherwise have done so. In this painting, both of Time's roles as the angry deliverer of punishment and the impassive Revealer of Truth have been replaced by a kindly, fatherly presence, admonishing the young couple to lead a virtuous life. In this guise, he holds up a looking glass to confront the lovers with reflections of their folly, thus drawing on various Renaissance emblematic meanings associated with mirrors, including Prudence -- clearly being exhorted here -- and Vanity.
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