“As we come to the end of National Poetry Month, here is a reminder of the perpetual power of poetry and art. Jean François de Troy’s ‘Allegory of Poetry’ was painted in Paris in 1733. Following tradition, Poetry is personified as a beautiful woman. With quill pen in hand, she gazes heavenward for inspiration. De Troy emphasized that she is both high minded and sensuous. She wears blue, the color of the heavens, and is crowned with laurel, symbolic of everlasting fame. The lyre alludes to the role of harmonious sound in poetic composition and to lyric poetry in particular. Beside Poetry is a genius, or spirit, whose gesture indicates the lofty source of the poet’s art. The setting is Mount Helicon, a place sacred to the muses. Pegasus’s hooves strike the ground creating the Hippocrene, a spring whose waters were said to stimulate poetic imagination.
Note how De Troy echoes the round format in the beautiful rhyming of curves. The close relationship of painting and poetry was first celebrated in ancient Greece by Simonides of Ceos (ca. 556–468 BCE), who wrote ‘Poetry is a speaking picture, painting a silent poem.’ Though distinct, the art forms share similar goals. The wings that sprout from the personification’s head refer to poetry’s power to lift us from the concerns of daily life to a place where our highest thinking is possible. Today, with our social, medical, and economic challenges, there has never been a greater time for poetry and art.”
—Dawson Carr, The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art
Jean François de Troy (French, 1679–1752). Allegory of Poetry, 1733. Oil on canvas. Gift of Alexis Gregory, 2000.54