Inspirational Art: Nicolas Poussin’s The Dance to the Music of Time

While nothing I can come up with is likely to match Anthony Powell’s series of novels I think gamers can draw inspiration from Poussin’s painting.

At the center the four seasons dance in a circle, while facing outwards, to the music played by an angelic, but aged, time (who may be flanked by his successor) while a heavenly host rides across the sky. That host might be the sun, but also could be ceding rain.

I think this could be an interesting encounter in a Heroquest game or epic level D&D (Masters BECMI, Epic 3.x, or Epic level 4th). Do the characters need the seasons to succor them? Does disturbing their dance affect the world? Perhaps they are just an encounter en rote to the chariot in the sky?

Regardless, Poussin’s painting, along with many classic styles (and related school) provide an alternate set of imagery to stock D&D today. I love the metal imagery circa 1980 of D&D, the OSR styles of Otis, and the 80s/90s Elmore styles. I’m not a fan of dungeon punk. Still, a large part of my heart is in Pre-Raphelite, Art Nouveau, classical, and early 20th century book illustrations (as someone following Inspirational Art posts would see).

I think we’re missing a visual language that influenced several of the masters (Dunsany, for example) or was created by them (William Morris). If the OSR is to move in new directions instead of repeating the past, perhaps this should be one.

2 thoughts on “Inspirational Art: Nicolas Poussin’s The Dance to the Music of Time

  1. “I think we're missing a visual language that influenced several of the masters (Dunsany, for example) or was created by them (William Morris). If the OSR is to move in new directions instead of repeating the past, perhaps this should be one.”

    I agree, and I probably harp on this too much. I think the same thing happens with “books about mythology” vs. a good translation of Hesiod or Ovid. Nothing inherently wrong with either approach, but they have very different effects on the reader.

    I personally get my best results when I draw inspiration from the older sources that influenced the development of fantasy roleplaying rather than the products of the fantasy roleplaying genre. I've internalized a lot of “gamer culture” because I grew up in it, and I both accept and welcome that, but I think something's lost when instead of going back to the art and literature that inspired Tolkien, Lovecraft, Howard, Lieber, et al. – not to mention the first fantasy gamers – we *begin* with gamer culture. Starting that high on the tree may cause us to miss some interesting branches.

    I realize that art is inspired by what came before, and there's only so far back that one can go, but I'm an advocate of going back a little farther than 1974. I usually don't look at stuff much more recent than 1923, as that's the benchmark for most public domain material in the U.S. and I can do whatever the hell I like with that.

    I know I'm describing what could, uncharitably but accurately, be termed a form of forced naivete, but I find that the more I clear my library of gamer-specific artifacts and fill it with neat old weird shit, the more creative I feel.

    (Obviously other folks get great results with a nearly opposite approach.)

  2. Actually, both this time and in Thool I think your choice to go with public domain materials is a great example of the principle of design under contraint. It can certainly be done with other rules creating the constraint but I think you've hit on a fairly strong one.

    I see two strengths for choosing material that is all in the public domain:

    1. It is not narrow. Even if you don't cheat by using the Australian Project Gutenberg (and thus getting Howard) consider just the famous names that you get access to: Poe, Dunsany, Lang, early Burroughs, William Morris, Dumas, Sheridan Le Faun, and Elisabeth Gaskell just to name a few. The entirety of Pre-Rahpaelite, Symbolist and Art Nouveau art from their peak plus at least some of the art of later practitioners of those styles such as Maxfield Parish. It also includes much of the golden age of book illustration.

    2. The second strength, and the greater to my mind, is the ability to surprise your players. Sure, any DM can but if you're using most books produced inside the gaming culture the odds are much higher someone will recognize what you're doing. Even if you make changes players are much more likely to see through them. I'm sure most people recognized where my 4E proposal came from because it is something they are likely to know from contemporary culture. Your Yellow Dwarf is much less likely to be in the day to day world of most potential players. In fact, I think drawing from these sources makes not only surprise but the elusive sense of wonder easier to evoke.

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