(b. 1582, Mantova, d. after 1622, Roma)
Allegory of the Four Seasonsc. 1610
Oil on canvas, 134 x 91,5 cm
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton
Manfredi's picture has been interpreted as an allegory of the Four Seasons, linked to the iconography of the Five Senses and explained as the four ages of man exemplified by various phases of love. There can be little doubt that its primary theme is the Four Seasons. The four figures, crowded behind a stone slab laden with fruit, are clearly identifiable as Spring (a young woman crowned with roses and playing a lute), Autumn (the young man adorned with a Bacchic crown of grapes), Summer (a bare-breasted woman who turns and stares directly at the viewer) and Winter (a shivering old man in a fur hat who is wrapped in a blanket). Nevertheless, their arrangement does not suggest the normal progression of the year and their interaction suggests a second level of meaning.
The rich array of fruit carefully placed before the figures is composed entirely of autumnal produce: grapes, pears, apples, figs, a pomegranate and a squash. This is clearly the domain of Autumn, who kisses the lute-playing Spring but at the same time embraces Summer, who wears a sprig of his wheat in her hair. Summer holds a small round transparent mirror as a symbol of the Origin of Love. Autumn's kiss and embrace signify that music is born of love, while Winter's exclusion is a sad reminder that in old age one is less inclined towards amorous sentiments.
Manfredi's facial features and tightly compressed composition find close parallels in Caravaggio's Musicians. The brightly illuminated fruit, so carefully displayed on cold, grey stone, and Summer's frank confrontation of the viewer over her bare shoulder seem to recall Caravaggio's Sick Bacchus explicitly. Although two other versions of Manfredi's Four Seasons are known, he painted no other allegoric subjects.