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“Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” by Titian

"Allegory of Prudence" by Titian

“Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” by Titian

“Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence” by Titian portrays three human heads, each facing in a different direction, above three animal heads. The animal heads are from left to right, a wolf, a lion, and a dog. The painting has been interpreted as operating on several levels.

The painting depicts the different ages of the three human heads, which represent the three ages of man. The ages are, from left to right, old age, maturity, and youth.

The different directions in which they are facing reflect a broader concept of time itself as having a past, present, and future.

This theme of time and the ages of humanity are repeated in the animal heads. The three animal heads of a wolf, lion, and dog represent the passage of time in terms of past, present, future.

These associations have echos in the literature, beliefs, and iconography that were more common during Titian’s time than they are today.

The painting has acquired its present name, due or the barely visible inscription above the portraits. The text which is in Latin translates to:

“from the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoils future actions.”

It has been argued that the human faces are actual portraits of the aged Titian, his son, and his young nephew, who both worked with Titian.

If this assumption is correct, then the painting acts as a visual counsel to the three generations to act prudently in the administration of their affairs.

Recently the painting has been explained in different ways. Instead of an allegory of prudence, it has been seen as an allegory about sin and repentance.

If this theory is correct, then this painting is a personal reflection by Titian on his failures to act prudently in his youth and middle age, which have led to his regret at an old age about past actions.

The painting has also been viewed as asserting that prudence, which comes with experience and old age, is an essential aspect of his artistic judgment.

On this interpretation, the painting, therefore, acts as a rebuttal to the view that old age is the enemy of his artistic achievement.

On a more general level, the painting’s depiction of Titian with his assistants of son and nephew is a defense of the continuity of his Venetian workshop tradition.


Titian (1490 – 1576) was the most famous painter of the 16th-century Venetian school. So much so that his contemporaries recognized him as one of the most accomplished painters, adept with portraits, landscape, and mythological and religious subjects.

His application and use of color, his vivid, luminous tints, his brushwork, and subtlety of tone had a profound influence on Western art.

Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence

  • Title:                Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence
  • Artist:              Titian
  • Year:               1550 – 1565
  • Movement:     Renaissance Art in Venice
  • Type:               Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 75.5 cm (29.7″); Width: 68.4 cm (26.9″)
  • Museum:        National Gallery, London


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“The painter must always seek the essence of things, always represent the essential characteristics and emotions of the person he is painting.”
– Titian


Photo Credit: 1) Titian / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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