Four Works of Art as the Seasons Go By

July 6, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

“The seasons … are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in intimate harmony with one another.” (Arthur Rubinstein)

A friend of mine once said: “Temperature change is the most important subject of conversation. It interests and concerns everybody and is common to all men alive in this world.” The changes of the seasons affect our soul but also reflect it in its development.

All along in the history of singing, music, dancing, and fine art, the theme of the seasons has always been the simplest and the most important. It is a metaphor and an opening that allows touching the soul’s mysteries and life’s cycle: birth, adolescence, old age, and death.

In Egyptian culture, there exist three seasons. Mesopotamia has only two seasons. In Australia, one speaks of five seasons, while the Greek and Chinese cultures are based on four seasons. The number changes according to the type of climate, but it is also linked to the vision of the world belonging to each culture, as well as to mythology and customs in a society. Here we are referring to the perspective of four seasons.

Summer

The famous aria Summertime (1935), by Ira and Georges Gershwin, was written and sung for the first time in the folk opera Porgy and Bess and was interpreted numerous times by great artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Janis Joplin.

The song was written like a lullaby. It is sung by a young mother, Clara, to her little boy. She wants to appease him and reassure herself while waiting with concern for her fisherman husband, who is caught in a storm at sea. The song’s lyrics illustrate a warm and reassuring atmosphere, free of worry—before the scene dramatically changes.

In its essence, the lullaby, like the summer warmth, envelops us before we fall asleep. This is an emotion that harkens back to childhood memories, at a moment when we are still innocent, receptive, in training, and as if in waiting for what is to follow.

Autumn

ESCAPING: If the seasons of the year are compared to a lifetime, then the shift from summer to autumn is related to the changes from adolescence to adulthood. Icarus, a well-known figure from Greek mythology, symbolizes the one who tries to find his way out of his father's home. 'Daedalus and Icarus,' marble, 3 feet x 7 feet x 3 feet, Antonio Canova.  (Artrenewal.org)
ESCAPING: If the seasons of the year are compared to a lifetime, then the shift from summer to autumn is related to the changes from adolescence to adulthood. Icarus, a well-known figure from Greek mythology, symbolizes the one who tries to find his way out of his father's home. 'Daedalus and Icarus,' marble, 3 feet x 7 feet x 3 feet, Antonio Canova. (Artrenewal.org)
When one thinks of autumn, one can think of the story of Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who was an inventor and artist in Greek mythology. As he reaches his adolescent years, Icarus one day decides to escape from home.

A construction of two wings with feathers, wax, and ropes, built by his father, serve his plans. As he gets excited about the experience of flying and escaping, Icarus doesn’t notice that he is flying, contrary to his father’s instructions, too close to the sun. The heat melts the wax, and Icarus falls to his death.

In the movie, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring (2003), by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk, season changes are not only a metaphor for the sentimental changes that affect us, but also symbols for his personal development and points of reference in the process of his realization.

The film follows the life of a Buddhist monk who, as a child, begins his life full of innocence, associated with the spring season. In summer, as a young man, he loses his temper when following love and his desires.

When fall arrives, he leaves his home and gets lost in sins and secular society. In winter, the monk comes back to his home, returns to solitude, and finds again his monastic life.

Autumn is a season in which everything changes within a very short time. Most trees become bare, and we are faced with landscapes of dead leaves.

Fall is associated with death. We anticipate an end, which gives us the capacity to wake up from the illusion of emotions and from the instability felt one minute before—we are now linked to something primary and existential within us.

Winter

In Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678–1741) magnificent opus, The Four Seasons, the musical part for winter is particularly beautiful. The music consists of three movements. The first illustrates a dramatic event, and one can imagine a storm. Lyrics by Vivaldi specify the Sonata of Winter “running to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.”

The second movement introduces a pleasant music that warms the heart. Vivaldi described it in the Sonata as “to rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.”

The third movement is the moment at which the opposite nature of the first two movements are reconciled in a new melody that conveys acceptance and harmony: “We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors. … This is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.”

Spring

ORANGERY SCENE: The seasons of the year as a metaphor for life gave inspiration to many great art works in different times and cultures. 'Allegory of Spring,' oil on panel, 10 feet x 7 feet, Sandro Botticelli. (Artrenewal.org)
ORANGERY SCENE: The seasons of the year as a metaphor for life gave inspiration to many great art works in different times and cultures. 'Allegory of Spring,' oil on panel, 10 feet x 7 feet, Sandro Botticelli. (Artrenewal.org)
“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring,” the American philosopher and poet George Santayana said.

The painting The Spring, by the famous Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (1444–1510) still today sparks multiple understandings and interpretations. Botticelli uses characters from Greek mythology to illustrate spring. The scene is set in an orangery, in the heart of which is Venus, the goddess of love. Venus observes the characters passing before her eyes.

On the right side of the painting is Zephyr, the god of the wind, appearing in the form of a blue-green creature. He is getting ready to blow the warm wind of spring, but apparently, his intentions are not innocent. He feels a desire that causes the nymph near him to flee. Flowers are coming out of her mouth that make the dress of the woman to her side—Flora, the goddess of flowers—more attractive.

On the left side are three dancing Graces, who are companions of Venus. Amor, her son, points his arrow toward one of them, and she, in a simple dress without ornament, turns her eyes toward the god of wisdom, Mercury.

Botticelli describes spring as a scene of love. Zephyr is there, impassioned, but the movements of the figures in the painting are all turned toward Mercury, symbol of supreme wisdom, the love of knowledge, the love of God. The scene alludes to life as an ideal voyage, during which man confronts his desires to reach the spiritual ideal of reaching a higher realm.

Epilogue

The fact that the phenomenon of the seasons repeats itself is a source of inspiration, is full of hope. After each death, there is a renewal. After each end, there is a beginning. It is nature that encourages us to accept these qualities, to embrace them, and to see in change what is most constant in our life.

Some will say that to divide the years’ climate into four, five, or six seasons is to limit oneself to the illusion that one can explain nature with laws, when everything appears in constant mutation. But it is through art that we see that it is these symbols and myths that preserve the memory of something primary, eternal, and infinite that goes beyond our day-to-day timeframe and leads us to a higher truth.