Nicolas Poussin


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Poussin, Nicolas

(nēkôlä`), 1594–1665, French painter, b. Les Andelys. Poussin was considered the greatest of living painters by his contemporaries. Although he spent most of his life in Italy, his painting became the standard for French classical art.

Poussin studied painting in the mannerist style in France until 1624, when he traveled to Rome via Venice. His early work in Rome (1624–33) manifests diversified tendencies. He executed many drawings of antique monuments for the great patron of the arts Cassiano del Pozzo. He experimented also with the baroque style of Pietro da Cortona and Lanfranco in works such as the Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (1629; Vatican). The paintings of Titian and Veronese influenced his choice of mythological and elegiac subjects.

Poussin's growing preoccupation with the works of antiquity and of Raphael resulted in a new clarity of composition in such paintings as the Adoration of the Magi (1633; Dresden) and The Golden Calf (c.1635; National Gall., London). His figures began to exhibit greater linear precision and sculptural solidity. Poussin became especially concerned with the didactic and philosophical possibilities of painting. He formulated the doctrines that became the basis of French classical and academic art, whereby a work was intended to arouse rational and intellectual, rather than visual, response in the viewer. His approach to and successful justification of this intellectualization profoundly influenced painting far into the 19th cent.

In 1640, Poussin was called to Paris by Louis XIII to displace Vouet as first painter to the king. Both the intrigues of Vouet and the task of administering the large-scale decoration of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre were distasteful to Poussin. A cold austerity characterizes his few works that remain from this period, e.g., Truth Rescuing Time (Louvre). By 1643, Poussin had returned to Rome. He then produced works that are considered the purest embodiments of French classicism. A comparison of his early and late versions of Shepherds of Arcadia (c.1629, Chatsworth Coll., England; and c.1650, Louvre) shows the fundamental change in his outlook. The poetic, dynamic emphasis of the early work was abandoned for the contemplative aspects of the subject in the later work. In his two series of the Seven Sacraments (1640s), he concentrated upon the symbolic meaning of each sacrament, stressing monumental solemnity and dignity.

During the late 1640s Poussin turned to landscape painting. In such works as the Death of Phocion (1648) he constructed a classical landscape, ordered with mathematical precision through the use of architecture. A renewed interest in mythology led him to favor esoteric themes, as in the Landscape with Orion (1658; Metropolitan Mus.). In his late work he developed a freer conception of nature, while his figures were considerably reduced in size and importance. Of his last works, the paintings in the series known as the Four Seasons (1660–64; Louvre) are most notable.

Bibliography

See his drawings ed. by W. F. Friedlander (4 vol., 1939–63); his paintings ed. by A. Blunt (1966); studies by C. Wright (1985) and Y. Zolotov (1985).

Poussin, Nicolas

 

Born in June 1594 in Les Andelys, Normandy; died Nov. 9, 1665, in Rome. French painter; the most consistent representative of 17th-century classicism.

Poussin studied the art of classical antiquity and the works of Raphael, Titian, the mannerist artists of the Fontainebleau school, and the masters of the Bolognese school. He studied perspective, anatomy, and mathematics. In 1612, Poussin went to Paris. The only early works by him that have been authenticated are drawings commissioned by G. Marino on themes from Ovid, Vergil, and Livy (bister and ink, c. 1622–24, Royal Library, Windsor). In late 1623, Poussin traveled to Venice, and in the spring of 1624 he settled in Rome.

Poussin sought specific compositional and coloristic interpretations for each subject that he depicted. Some of his works, such as Death of Germanicus (c. 1628, Minneapolis Institute of Arts), anticipate the strong civic spirit of late classicism. Others, for example, Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (c. 1628, Vatican Pinacoteca), are baroque in spirit. Poussin also painted a number of works based on mythological and literary themes. Marked by a poetic use of light and by a distinctive color scheme reminiscent of the Venetian school, these works include Sleeping Venus (c. 1625–27, Dresden Picture Gallery), Echo and Narcissus (c. 1625–27, Louvre, Paris), Rinaldo and Armida (c. 1625–27, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow), The Kingdom of Flora (c. 1631–32, Dresden Picture Gallery), and Tancred and Erminia (1630’s, Hermitage, Leningrad).

Poussin’s classical tendencies emerged more distinctly in works executed between 1635 and 1639 (for example, The Rape of the Sabine Women, second version, c. 1635, Louvre; The Gathering of the Manna, c. 1637–39, Louvre). The exact compositional rhythm that prevails in these works is experienced as a direct reflection of the principle of reason, which moderates lowly impulses and imparts grandeur to the noble deeds of man.

From 1640 to 1642, Poussin worked in Paris at the court of Louis XIII. His works from this period include Time Freeing Truth (c. 1641–42, Art Museum, Lille). Intrigues of court artists headed by S. Vouet prompted Poussin’s return to Rome.

The ethical and philosophical direction of Poussin’s work intensified during the artist’s second Roman period. This intensification is evident in such works as Moses Drawing Water From the Rock (1648, Hermitage), Eliezer and Rebekah (1648, Louvre), Arcadian Shepherds (also known as Et in Arcadia ego, second version, c. 1650, Louvre), and Rest on the Flight to Egypt (c. 1658, Hermitage).

In his representations of ancient Greek or Roman subjects and in his depiction of biblical figures in the guise of heroes from classical antiquity, Poussin selected a means of artistic expression that would most effectively relate the moralistic meaning of a given situation. Poussin’s Self-portrait (1650, Louvre) is imbued with stoic calm and with faith in the high dignity of an artist’s labor.

Beginning in the 1640’s, Poussin was increasingly attracted by images from nature. Developing the principles of the ideal landscape, he represented nature as the embodiment of perfection and purpose. He introduced into his landscapes mythological personages to personify natural elements (for example, Landscape With Polyphemus, c. 1649, Hermitage; Landscape With Orion, 1650–55, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He used biblical stories to express, in the spirit of stoicism, the idea of a higher necessity or fate as the principle regulating the interrelationship between man and his surroundings. This concept is reflected in St. John on Patmos (1644–45, Art Institute of Chicago) and the series The Seasons (1660–65, Louvre). In the last picture in the series The Seasons—Winter, or The Flood— reflection on the transience of life is raised to the level of universal human tragedy.

Poussin’s classicist credo is expressed in his art theory, including his theory of modes (akin to the 16th-century theory of musical modes), which governs the structural and emotional direction of his works.

WORKS

Correspondance…. Paris, 1911.
In Russian translation:
Pis’ma. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.

REFERENCES

Vol’skaia, V. N. Pussen. Moscow, 1946.
Grautoff, O. Nicolas Poussin, sein Werk und sein Leben, vols. 1–2. Munich-Leipzig, 1914.
Friedländer, W., and A. Blunt (eds.). The Drawings of Nicolas Poussin (catalog), vols. 1–4. London, 1939–63.
Nicolas Poussin, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1960.
Blunt, A. Nicolas Poussin [vols. 1–2. New York, 1967].
Badt, K. Die Kunst des Nicolas Poussin, vols. 1–2 (Cologne), 1969.
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The painting, for two centuries one of the most famous images in Europe, was (as Huxley notes) Nicolas Poussin's favorite.
First, the artist's choice of images to include is itself a form of interpretation--as Nicolas Poussin forcefully showed in one painting by focusing the figures' gaze on the intrusive inscription ET IN ARCADIA EGO: "I (Death) too can be found in Arcady." Second, although the formulation "the prosopopeia [sic] underlying art criticism--resurrection" [jacket copy] does appropriately identify the interpretation of the visual arts as an act of reading into rather than seeing--Raser's main theme--but does not distinguish a critic's speaking on her own behalf in an essay [not a trope per se] from her ventriloquizing in the prosopopoeias of the lyric, when discourse is specifically attributed to an entity that is "offstage," nonhuman, or deceased.
A more unified national style developed in the 17th century, in part due to the establishment in 1648 of the French Royal Academy (Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture), where the influence of Nicolas Poussin gave rise to a cool and classicizing Baroque idiom.
Other poets and artists are also studied: by Hugotte, who uses the Giacomettian aesthetic to compare du Bouchet's writing to that of Jacques Dupin, his Ephemere colleague; by Daniel Guillaume, who interestingly discusses the influence on du Bouchet of the American Objectivist poets of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as the work of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the poet Emmanuel Hocquard; and by Bishop, who investigates du Bouchet's fascination with the seventeenth-century painting of Hercules Seghers and Nicolas Poussin and with the twentieth-century canvases of the Breton painter Tal-Coat.
These impressions 'suddenly suggested Poussin's scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays ...' - this is A Dance to the Music of Time, by Nicolas Poussin c1639, in the Wallace Collection.
Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion is one of the great paintings in the Walker, a work by the Frenchborn painter Nicolas Poussin (15941665) which celebrates his taste for classical subjects and his wonderful ability with landscapes.
By the time of his death in 1936, Ringling had accumulated more than 600 paintings, including masterpieces by such artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals, Paolo Veronese, Nicolas Poussin, and Diego Velazquez as well as important holdings in classical antiquities and European decorative arts.
Pablo Picasso was a dominant artistic influence, but Bacon also found inspiration in a less likely source: Nicolas Poussin's Massacre of the Innocents (1626-28).
I might also have been pointing to the fact that Frenhofer-the presumed author of the "unknown masterpiece"--is invented by Balzac, and thus unknown to history; or to the fact that the then unknown Nicolas Poussin (1594-1695), who in 1612 had just arrived in Paris, is the repeated referent of the adjective "inconnu"; or to the fact that "masterpiece" is used almost exclusively to refer to the obscure works of Francois Porbus (1570-1622), the third painter, who mediates in many ways between the other two.