Veritas filia Dei. 3. Time and Truth

Veritas filia Dei
1. The Ithika
2. The naked Truth
3. Time and Truth
4. Daughter of God
In the previous chapter we have analysed the illustration ot Truth in Ithika ieropolitika (1712) on the basis of the description of its model, the Iconologia (1603) of Cesare Ripa, and we have established that it followed the iconographic formula of the “naked Truth” which had developed in the 15th century from the popular ancient composition of the “Calumny of Apelles”. Let us see now what is the relation between the illustration and the poem accompanying it.


Вся время губит и вся покрывает
Вся тлит время и в конец превращает
Едину истину аки свое племя
Хранит блюдет и открывает время.
Time destroys and covers up all,
all is decomposed and brought to end by time.
Only truth and its offsprings
are conserved, protected and revealed by time.

This poem presents another Renaissance face of Truth. It does not describe the Truth that shines by itself like the sun, but the hidden or oppressed Truth which has to be revealed by Time. Renaissance art elaborated for the representation of this idea a special iconographic formula called “Veritas filia Temporis” – “Truth is the daughter of Time”.

This name became also the title of that still fundamental study in which Fritz Saxl first surveyed the ancient roots and Renaissance versions of this formula. * The term occurs for the first time in Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae 12.11.7, but the idea itself emerged much earlier in ancient literature: in the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles or in the odes of Pindar it is always Time who reveals the hidden truth, sins and merits. The idea was quickly converted into a proverb, and this is how we find it from Menander through Seneca and Tertullian to the late Byzantine collections of proverbs. All these sources were resumed and popularized in the 16th century by Erasmus in chapter 2.4.17 (Tempus omnia revelans – Time reveals all) of his Adagia.

Although the idea was familiar to Renaissance literature since the 15th century, it was not easily represented in a visual form. To this, it had to be associated with another iconographic formula of ancient origins. This formula is found in Vincenzo Cartari who, in the most popular Renaissance dictionary of ancient mythology – Le imagini de i dei de gli antichi, Venice 1556, enlarged edition 1571 – describes Truth, with reference to a fragment of Democritus (Fragm. B 117 Diels) as follows:

Questa [la Verità] stà occulta, ne si lascia vedere ad ognuno: onde Democrito la pose nel prefondo di vn pozzo, dicendo ch’ ella quindi non vsciua mai, se il tempo, ouero Saturno suo padre, come dice Plutarco, non ne la traheua fuori alle volte.

This [Truth] is hidden and cannot be seen by everyone. This is why Democritus placed her to the bottom of a well, asserting that she never comes out of there, except when Saturn – who is her father according to Plutarch – pulls her out sometimes. *

Cartari, says Saxl, could also rely in this description on an existing picture, which was nothing but the printer’s device of his own publisher, the Venetian Francesco Marcolini.


This emblem was composed by the popular Italian humanist of the early 16th century Pietro Aretino for the edition by Marcolini of Adriaen Willaert’s Cinque messe in 1536. In his foreword Aretino dedicated this  edition to Prince Alessandro de’ Medici on the occasion that he, having prevailed over his enemies and returned to the throne of Florence, married the daughter of Emperor Charles V, Marguerite of Austria. The image of the naked Truth liberated from her captivity by Time, made for this occasion, pleased so much Marcolini that he used it since ever as a personal printer’s device on the frontispieces of all his publications.

This visual formula, however, also contains a “foreign element”, not mentioned by Democritus: a harpy which tries to push back Truth into the well – or, according to other sources, a cave – where she had laid hidden. It seems, writes Saxl, that we are dealing here with an original “abbreviation” of the composition of the “Calumny of Apelles” which, by highlighting only the two most essential elements of the multi-figured complex composition – the Calumny/Envy as well as the first slandered and then triumphing Truth – rendered the topos suitable for emblematic use. This is how we see it on the emblem “Veritas tempore revelatur” of the influential Emblemata (1565) by Hadrianus Junius, also taken over by Geoffrey Whitney into his collection Choice of emblemes (1586): Time saves from the prison Truth whom her enemies Calumny, Envy and Discord intend to destroy. *


On the other hand, Saxl also pointed out that although the popularity of the formula was due to the composition by Aretino, nevertheless it appeared already a year earlier on the frontispiece of William Marshall’s Goodly Primer in Englysshe (1535) where Time (“Tyme reueleth all thynges”), with the gesture of Christ descending to the limbo for the forefathers, saves from her cave-prison Truth (“Truthe, the doughter of tyme”). The book being a Protestant publication, it is “Hipocrisy” rather than Calumny who tries to prevent him from doing so. Mt 10:26 stands under the picture as a motto: “Nothyng is couered that shall not be discouered, And nothyng is hydde, that shall not be reueled”. This same verse concludes the above mentioned overview of the history and literature of the topos by Erasmus in his Adagia (which was of course omitted, similarly to all other biblical verses, from the “Catholic Adagia” of 1575), and Saxl assumes that the two visual formulas by Aretino and Marshall, similar in concept and close in time to each other, go back to a common source based on this adage by Erasmus.


This iconographic formula, supported both by the authority of ancient authors and contemporary humanists, and recalling well known visual paradigms – the Calumny of Apelles as well as the Descent of Christ to the limbo – quickly became popular in contemporary art, and was often represented until the late 18th century.

Annibale Carracci: Allegory of Time and Truth, 1584-85, London, Hampton Court Royal
Collection. The Truth saved from the well and Time trample on the figure of Calumny
laying on the earth. As Tervarent has pointed it out, * the painter drew the two
secondary figures from the book of Vincenzo Cartari: the “Bonus Eventus”,
mentioned by Pliny, to the right, and “Felicitas” to the left.

Bronzino: Allegory of Venus and Cupido, c. 1546, London, National Gallery. This image,
of a very complex meaning, * is also framed by Truth and Time which reveals all,
while in the background Fraud occupies the place of Calumny.

Rubens: Triumph of Truth, and below full composition, 1622-25. Louvre.
The image celebrates the reconcilement of Maria de’ Medici and her son Louis XIII.


Poussin: Triumph of Truth, c. 1641. The painting was commissioned by Richelieu. Its model
was the ceiling painting by Domenichino of c. 1615 in the Palazzo Costaguti of Rome.

François Le Moine: Time reveals Truth, 1737. London, Wallace Collection

Tiepolo: Time reveals Truth, c. 1745. Vicenza, Museo Civico; below Tiepolo’s sketch, Carlton Hobbs Antique Gallery; and here a less known version from 1731


Thus the allegory of Truth in Ithika adopts two different Renaissance iconographic formulas: the illustration that of the glorious Truth, while the poem that of the oppressed Truth revealed by Time. In Western European Renaissance art the two formulas sprang from different literary and visual sources and emphasized two different aspects of Truth. The fact that the author of Ithika did not perceive this difference but placed side by side the two disparate formulas, is explained by the Ithika’s circumstances of birth outlined in our first chapter. The Orthodox author who just began to grow familiar with the Renaissance and Baroque iconography falling outside of his culture, still did not apprehend its subtle shades of meaning. A further development of the genre created with Ithika would have certainly opened the way to a deeper knowledge and application of them, had the Russian Imperial cultural policy not arrested this promising opening of Ukrainian Orthodoxy to the West shortly after the publication of the book.

But the true contrast between the meanings of the poem and of the picture can be understood only if we search deeper into the origins of this latter and, by passing beyond the Renaissance topos of the “naked Truth” we also reveal its Medieval iconographic background. This is what we will do in the next, final chapter.