Father Time is the personification of time. In recent centuries he is usually depicted as an elderly bearded man, sometimes with wings, dressed in a robe and carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping device (which represents time’s constant one-way movement, and more generally and abstractly, entropy).
As an image “Father Time’s origins are curious”. The ancient Greeks themselves began to associate chronos, their word for time, with the agricultural god Cronos, who had the attribute of a harvester’s sickle. The Romans equated Cronos with Saturn, who also had a sickle, and was treated as an old man, often with a crutch. The wings and hourglass were early Renaissance additions and he eventually became a companion of the Grim Reaper, personification of Death, often taking his scythe. He may have as an attribute a snake with its tail in its mouth, an ancient Egyptian symbol of eternity.
Father Time on an Irish memorial stone, displaying an empty hourglass to a mourning widow
Around New Year’s Eve, the media (in particular editorial cartoons) use the convenient trope of Father Time as the personification of the previous year (or “the Old Year”) who typically “hands over” the duties of time to the equally allegorical Baby New Year (or “the New Year”) or who otherwise characterizes the preceding year. In these depictions, Father Time is usually depicted wearing a sash with the old year’s date on it.
Time (in his allegorical form) is often depicted revealing or unveiling the allegorical Truth, sometimes at the expense of a personification of Falsehood, Fraud, or Envy. This theme is related to the idea of veritas filia temporis (Time is the father of Truth).
In the arts
Father Time is an established symbol in numerous cultures and appears in a variety of art and media. In some cases, they appear specifically as Father Time while in other cases they may have another name (such as Saturn), but the characters demonstrate the attributes which Father Time has acquired over the centuries.
Chronos and his child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, is a 17th-century depiction of Titan Cronus as “Father Time” wielding the harvesting scythe
Father Time statue atop a grave at Mount Moriah Cemetery
Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, a c.1545 painting by Agnolo Bronzino, National Gallery, London.
An Allegory of Truth and Time, a 1584–85 painting by Annibale Carracci, Royal Collection Trust.
An Allegory of Truth, a 1596 painting by Gillis Coignet the Elder, showing Time presenting Truth.
Time Rescuing Truth from Envy (Veritas Filia Temporis), a sixteenth-century print after Hieronymus Bosch, Baillieu Library, Melbourne.
The Triumph of Truth (showing Time rescuing Truth), part of the 1622–25 Marie de’ Medici cycle of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Louvre.
Time Vanquished by Love, Hope & Beauty, a 1627 painting by Simon Vouet, features Saturn in his incarnation as Father Time as the central figure, Prado Madrid.
A Dance to the Music of Time, a 1634–36 painting by Nicolas Poussin, shows Time strumming a stringed instrument while several allegorical figures dance, Wallace Collection, London.
Landscape with Time and Truth, a 1639 painting by Nicolas Poussin.
Time Defending Truth Against the Attacks of Envy and Discord, c. 1641, ceiling painting by Nicholas Poussin.
Time Reveals the Truth, a 1650 painting by Theodoor van Thulden.
Time Reveals the Truth: The Allegory, a 1657 painting by Theodoor van Thulden, State Hermitage Museum.
Time Being Overcome by Truth, a c. 1665 painting by Pietro Liberi, private collection.
Vanitas: Time Reveals the Truth, a c.1670 painting by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini.
Time Destroys Beauty, a seventeenth-century painting by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini.
Time Revealing Truth, late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century painting by Sebastiano Ricci Belluno.
Time Unveiling Truth, a 1733 painting by Jean-François De Troy, National Gallery, London.
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, a 1737 painting by François Le Moyne, Wallace Collection, London.
Time Unveiling Truth, a c. 1743 painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Museo Civico Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza.
Time Uncovering Truth, a 1745 oval painting by Charles-Joseph Natoire, part of the Waddesdon Rothschild Collections, Aylesbury, UK.
Time Unveiling Truth, a 1745–50 painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Time Hunting Envy and Discovering Truth, an eighteenth-century fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo at the Villa Loschi-Zileri outside of Vicenza, Italy.
Truth Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History, an 1812–14 painting by Francisco Goya, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Father Time (Lord’s) is a weather vane at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, in the shape of Father Time.
Father Time is the central figure in Lorado Taft’s 1922 Chicago fountain, Fountain of Time.
Father Time, complete with scythe, is the central figure in the Rotunda Clock by John Flanagan, located in the rotunda of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C..
Father Time and the Virgin is a statue located on the cupola of the Masonic Hall at Mendocino, California.
An old statue of Father Time sits on the grounds at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England.
A clock featuring Father Time, created by Guéret Frêres, Atelier Cartier, and Vincenti et Cie, may be viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum also owns a drawing that is a study for a similar clock.
Truth Unveiled by Time is the name and subject of a sculpture by Bernini, though the figure of Time was never executed.
Old Father Time appears in the fantasy novel series Nightside by Simon R. Green, as an elderly character tending to peoples’ needs for time travel—and in some cases—guidance.
Father Time appears in the fairy tale themed short story, written by L. Frank Baum. Entitled “The Capture of Father Time”. That Father Time was captured by the son of an Arizonian cowboy named Jim because of his foolishness.
Time is one of the Incarnations of Immortality in Piers Anthony’s series of the same name. Time (also referred to as “Chronos”) appears in several of the books and is the main character of Bearing an Hourglass. For most of the series he appears as a middle-aged man in a blue robe (which has the power to age to oblivion anything which attacks him) and bearing an hourglass which he can use to control the flow of time and move through both time and space.
Father Time is painted in the ceiling of the dungeon, in the Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum”.
In Mitch Albom’s latest book The Time Keeper, Dor, the central character, is Father Time. He is freed from exile and sent to Earth on the condition that he teaches two people on Earth the true importance of time, a teenage girl who does not wish to live anymore, and a dying old billionaire who wishes to live forever.
Father Time is a character in Jude the Obscure, a novel by Thomas Hardy. Father Time is the name given to Jude Fawley’s son, who is dreadfully melancholy and commits suicide at a young age.
Father Time also appeared in C. S. Lewis’ novels The Silver Chair and The Last Battle which are the final two novels (chronologically) in the series The Chronicles of Narnia.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he is referred to as Time and is responsible for making the Mad Hatter and his friends have an endless tea party by stopping “himself” because the Hatter escaped decapitation from the Queen of Hearts for creating a terrible performance.
Business and industry
Father Time was the logo for the Elgin Watch Company. Notable in the logo was that Father Time had switched out his traditional hourglass for a watch.
Father Time appears on the Presidential Seal of the Actuaries Institute.
Comics, magazines and periodicals
Father Time made numerous appearances in the classic comic Little Nemo in Slumberland, both as a general representation of time and as a symbol of the new year.
A Norman Rockwell painting of Father Time appeared on 31 December 1910 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
Father Time is a recurring character in Tatsuya Ishida’s webcomic Sinfest, often appearing as an infant immediately on or after the Western New Year, and as an old man fated to die during the end of the year.
This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library