Vertumnus and Pomona is a story of seduction and deception from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a popular source of imagery for 17th century Dutch painters. Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and change, assumed multiple guises as he attempted to woo the recalcitrant wood nymph Pomona. Govaert Flinck has painted the moment in the courtship when Vertumnus, disguised as an old woman, is speaking on his own behalf to a bemused Pomona. The two figures are dramatically pressed to the front of the picture plane in a tightly defined space and are set against a dark background of tree trunks and exposed roots.

While the setting is intimate and the figures are so close that their knees almost touch, the distance between them is unmistakable. Pomona, seated on the right, is portrayed as a ruddy complexioned young woman, elegantly-if curiously for the setting-dressed in white satin, with a richly embroidered bodice. She leans to her left, her check pressed heavily into her hand, her gaze directed off into the distance. Whether she is listening intently to her companion or dreamily lost in her own thoughts is impossible to discern.

On the left, Vertumnus is portrayed in mid-gesture, "her" right hand moving toward Pomona; her left, turning back to herself. In contrast with Pomona's youthful complexion, Vertumnus' coarse skin and features bear the evidence of age. What isn't immediately certain, however, is Vertumnus' gender. While the rust-colored clothing and turban-like headdress suggest a woman's garments, there is a manly quality in both the face and hands. Flinck, exercising his culture's delight in sexual innuendo, solves the riddle for the careful observer who notices the walking stick that leans against the inside of Vertumnus' thigh.


Artworks are visual narratives that can be used to address issues of gender, sexual, cultural, ethnic and spiritual diversity. In this painting the visual contrasts in physical appearance, age, clothing of the two figures invites discussions about socio-economic, cultural, ethnic and generational differences. The identity of the older figure, who may be perceived as either male or female, and his/her relationship with the young girl invokes discussions about gender and power.

Although Ovid's story has a happy ending, with the young Pomona falling in love with Vertumnus at the moment he transforms himself from the "old woman" into his handsome self, there are more disturbing interpretations. Vertumnus, who is depicted as physically larger and older in the painting, uses deceit to persuade, or perhaps pressure the adolescent girl, Pomona, into a relationship that she is hesitant, or reluctant, or even resistant to enter. Although Vertumnus' hand touches his heart, his knee between the young girl's open legs is sexually suggestive, and his intentions may be duplicitous.


Painted circa 1640

Primary Source

Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington D.C.: Netherlands-American Amity Trust; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans, 1986, p. 256, Fig. 385