Many of us here in the Northeast and across the country have little question that Winter has affected most every aspect of our everyday lives. Just 2 weeks after a 40″ snow, there is still snow everywhere, many of our traffic patterns have been necessarily altered, and our lives now wrap around staying warm and safe. Between 1568-1570, French master Antoine Caron painted a beautifully complex work entitled The Triumph of Winter.
The image is filled with Mythic images. The Getty Museum helps us to understand what we are seeing:
Winter is often imagined as the season of death but also as the season of nature’s annual rest, so we see the painting is bathed in darkness.
The temple with the circular dome is the Temple of Janus. Janus (originally worshipped as Jana) was a pair of gods worshipped as the sun and the moon. The Janus face, or the image of the two faced god was also used to represent the equal joining of two cities or two ideals. In this image Janus represents the passage from one year to the next.
On the left side of the painting, we see a two faced old man in a black cape climbing the stairs. This is the god Saturn, sometimes associated with Cronos, the god of time. Looking ahead and behind, he will open the door to the new year.
Just below Saturn, we see the image of Apollo playing a bowed instrument, a Kithera a type of lyre. The instrument created by his brother Hermes out of a turtle shell. (for more on that, see post on Hermes from of Jan 8).
Apollo is followed by his brother, Hermes, the messenger god recognizable by his winged sandals, his helmet, and the caduceus. (again see post of Jan 8 for more info on Hermes)
Behind Hermes, we have beautiful Athena, in a flowing red gown. She is recognizable by the image of the Gorgon head, the head of Medusa, on her breast.
A few figures behind Athena is Hephaestos, (aka Vulcan) the god of the Forge, of fire.
And lastly, beautiful Winter rides in the chariot.
As winter wanes and the snow melts, we can see in this stunningly complex view a sacred farewell to the season.
(Thanks to the Getty Museum for their excellent explications of the symbols in this painting! )