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The Changing Iconography of Father Time

  • S. Macey

Abstract

Though Saturn-Cronus, as Panofsky suggested in 1939, is the single most important influence on the Father Time of the Western World, the two have been very differently represented. They seem to have little more than age in common, and this impression is strengthened when we consider their natures. The accretions and metamorphoses — as benevolence, nudity, forelock, wings, hourglass, and scythe — which gave to Saturn the symbols that we have come to associate with Father Time are traced through a number of works including the illustrators of Petrarch, the emblem books, and Hogarth.

The change that we are tracing is from a Saturn who had castrated his father and devoured his own children — the saturnine and even malevolent patron of cripples and criminals — to a Father Time who by the sixteenth century was frequently depicted as the benevolent father of Truth. Among other developments, Father Time, who had earlier taken over the symbols of Death, stands back aghast from him by the time of Quarles’ Hieroglyphikes (1638). In Hogarth’s last work Tailpiece, or the Bathos (1764), Time — now more sinned against than sinning — expires surrounded by his broken symbols.

Though Father Time did not die (Cupid and he are the only characters from the old emblem books that survive), he is today a very different figure from that depicted in the earlier illustrations. The main purpose of my essay has been to delineate the changing iconography of Father Time, while a subsidiary purpose has been to relate this to important developments in technology and society.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Title Page 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 73f. I am particularly grateful to Professor Adam Mendelow for a number of helpful suggestions related to this paper.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 78, and 79n. See also Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, trans. Charles Dahlberg (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 113 (lines 5534ff.).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For children of Saturn who were cripples and criminals see Soji Iwasaki’s The Sword and the Word: Shakespeare’s Tragic Sense of Time (Tokyo: Shinozaki Shorin Press, 1973), Figs. 3 and 27, or Panofsky, Fig. 48; for Saturn as a castrator see Vasari’s Mutilation of Uranus by Cronus (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence); for Saturn as a child-eater see Iwasaki, Fig. 5, or Panofsky, Figs. 46 and 47.Google Scholar
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    Panofsky, Figs. 56, 57, and 60. For the “Emblematical Print,” see Rev. John Trusler’s Works of Hogarth (London: E. T. Brain, n. d.), facing p. 173. In 1766 Trusler was employed by Hogarth’s wife, Jane, to write explanations of the prints. For the much less pejorative ways in which Hogarth (and his father-in-law Thornhill) normally portrayed Time, see Ronald Paulson, Hogarth: His Life, Art and Times (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971), Plates 33, 35, 58, 151b, 178, 230a, 274, 287, 313a and 313b.Google Scholar
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    Hesiod, Theogeny, trans. Dorothea Wender (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), pp. 28–29; Theogony 147–208.Google Scholar
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    Panofsky, Fig. 51; Samuel C. Chew, The Virtues Reconciled (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1947), Fig. 13. Justice was a daughter of Zeus (see Roscher under “Dike”). After the eleventh century. Truth, Justice, Peace, and Mercy were widely represented as the four daughters of God (Chew, pp. 35–37).Google Scholar
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    Cecil Clutton and others, Britten’s Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers, 8th edn. (New York: Dutton, 1973), p. 43.Google Scholar
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    Herman Hugo, Pla Desideria (1624; rpt. Menston: Scolar Press, 1971), I am indebted to the introductory note by Hester M. Black. It is ironic that the “Catholic” Amor and Anima derived from Emblem No. 45 in Emblemes...Chrestiennes (1571) of the Huguenot, Georgette de Montenay; see Mario Praz, “Profane and Sacred Love,” Studies In Seventeenth-Century Imagery, 2nd edn. (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1964).Google Scholar
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    Not all the illustrators, of course, emphasized the same qualities. Mario Praz complains that Cruikshank’s illustrations for an edition of Quarles in 1838 turned Anima into a biamptious little woman like a portrait of Queen Victoria as a child, but we are more concerned with the kindly expression on the face of Father Time, Praz, pp. 166–168 and Figs. 65 and 66.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Minute hands were not common until the penduliam in clocks (1657) and the balance spring in watches (c. 1674). None of the other clocks to which allusion has thus far been made, show two hands. This was to be a useful element in the horological iconography of Hogarth. See Samuel L. Macey, “Hogarth and the Iconography of Time,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. V, ed. Ronald C. Rosbottom (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), pp. 41–53.Google Scholar
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    The term is related to the fact that Egyptian hieroglyphics were considered to provide a pedigree for emblems.Google Scholar
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    Among the Grub-Street writers, he included both Quarles and Wither. See, for example, Dunciad I, lines 140 and 296.Google Scholar
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    For the relationship between Saturnalia and Christmas see W. F. Dawson, Christmas: Its Origin and Associations (London: Elliot Stock, 1902), pp. 13, 15, 29, 168–171, and 191; A. R. Wright, British Calendar Customs (London: The Folk-Lore Society, 1940), III, 193–194; William S. Walsh, The Story of Santa Klaus (Detroit: Gale, 1970), pp. 69–76, 158–159, 166, and 210; and William Muir Auld, Christmas Traditions (New York: MacMillan, 1931), pp. 35–43. For the Time with three faces that is “in effect a Janus,” see Didron, II, 24–25, and Iwasaki, Fig. 13, or Panofsky, Fig. 50. The early iconographers of Father Time concentrated on the saturnine rather than the saturnalian aspect of Saturn.Google Scholar
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    Frederick Burgess, English Churchyard Memorials (London: Lutterworth, 1963), pp. 113, 168–171, Plates 16, 20–22; and Katherine A. Esdaile, English Monumental Sculpture since the Renaissance (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1927), pp. 30–31, 119, and Plate II.Google Scholar
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    Arnold Whittick, Symbols, Signs and their Meaning (London: Leonard Hill, 1960), pp. 200–201, 252, 254, and 261.Google Scholar

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