This landscape painting was created by the Welsh artist, Richard Wilson (c. 1714-1782). As the title of the piece divulges, figures representing the divine personifications of the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) can be found in the artwork, as well as a depiction of the god, Apollo. Richard Wilson painted the Seasons as four young women, caught in the youthful act of holding hands and spinning in a circle. Apollo sits off to the left side of the canvas, lyre in hand, and he gestures as if he is singing to the whirling Seasons.
A similar scene can be found in the writings of the ancient Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE). In his myth-filled masterpiece, Metamorphoses, the poet described the Seasons and other related deities as courtiers inhabiting the palace of Phoebus (a name that commonly referred to both Apollo and the sun-god, Helios). Ovid wrote:
“Garbed in a robe of royal purple, radiant Phoebus
was sitting there on a throne which was glowing with brilliant emeralds.
Standing close on his right and his left were the Spirits of Day,
of Month and of Year, the Centuries and Hours at their equal intervals.
Also in waiting were youthful Spring with her wreath of flowers,
Summer naked but for her garland of ripening corn ears,
Autumn stained with the juice of trodden clusters of grapes,
And icy Winter, whose aged locks were hoary and tangled.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.23-30)
For the scene captured on canvas, Apollo and the seasons left behind their palace, and shook themselves free of their entourage of minor time deities. Summer decided to put on some clothes for the stroll through the countryside, and Winter rejuvenated her critiqued curls. As for Spring and Autumn, they set aside their respective flower wreath and grapes. Apollo, meanwhile, traded out his imperial purple wardrobe for garments in more humble shades of blue and orange. Yet, despite the presence of these deities dancing and singing before the body of water, it is the surrounding landscape and sky that brings the most power to the scene of the artwork.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by David Raeburn. Penguin Classics; Revised Edition, 2004.