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Four Ages of Man

Valentin de Boulogne French

Not on view

The child holds a cage—an emblem of ambiguous meaning, but one Goya also used in his famous portrait of little Manuel Osorio in The Met. Here, the youth plays the lute, signifying love; the middle-aged soldier holds a book and is crowned with a poet’s laurels as he meditates on the futility of worldly accomplishment; and the old man wisely resigns himself to drink—for what else can one do? Valentin takes on the theme of an allegory of the four ages of man by using conventional emblems in what first looks like an ordinary genre picture. This work must have inspired philosophical musings by its viewers, the earliest of whom was a Parisian collector in the seventeenth century.

Four Ages of Man, Valentin de Boulogne (French, Coulommiers-en-Brie 1591–1632 Rome), Oil on canvas

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