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Nicolas Poussin

nicolas poussin, nicolas poussin paintings
Nicolas Poussin French: nikɔlɑ pusɛ̃; June 1594 – 19 November 1665 was the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style, although he spent most of his working life in Rome His work is characterized by clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color Until the 20th century he remained a major inspiration for such classically oriented artists as Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Paul Cézanne

He worked in Rome for a circle of leading collectors from there and elsewhere, except for a short period when Cardinal Richelieu ordered him back to France to serve as First Painter to the King Most of his works are history paintings of religious or mythological subjects that very often have a large landscape element


  • 1 Biography
    • 11 Early years
    • 12 In Rome
    • 13 In France
  • 2 Style
  • 3 Works
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 Gallery
  • 6 See also
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 Further reading
    • 91 Exhibitions
  • 10 External links


Landscape with a Calm, 1650

Early yearsedit

Nicolas Poussin's early biographer was his friend Giovanni Pietro Bellori,1 who relates that Poussin was born near Les Andelys in Normandy and that he received an education that included some Latin, which would stand him in good stead Early sketches attracted the notice of Quentin Varin, a local painter, whose pupil Poussin became, until he ran away to Paris at the age of eighteen There he entered the studios of the Flemish painter Ferdinand Elle and then of Georges Lallemand, both minor masters now remembered for having tutored Poussin He found French art in a stage of transition: the old apprenticeship system was disturbed, and the academic training destined to supplant it was not yet established by Simon Vouet In Paris, Poussin was impressed by Italian art he viewed in the royal collection, and studied engravings after Raphael and Giulio Romano2

He attempted to travel to Rome, but after reaching Florence he was forced, perhaps by ill health, to return to Paris3 In 1622 he met Giambattista Marino, the court poet to Marie de Medici, at Lyon Marino employed him on illustrations for a projected edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses4 These "Marino drawings" preserved at Windsor Castle are among the very few identifiable works of Poussin executed before his arrival in Rome5 Marino took him into his household, and in 1624 enabled Poussin who had been detained by commissions in Lyon and Paris to rejoin him at Rome It has been suggested that it was this early friendship with Marino, and the commissioning of illustrations of his Ovidian poetry, that founded, or at least reinforced, the prominent eroticism in Poussin's early work6

In Romeedit

Poussin's Death of Germanicus, 1628

Poussin was thirty when he arrived in Rome in 1624 At first he lodged with Simon Vouet7 Through Marino, he had been introduced to Marcello Sacchetti who in turn introduced him to another of his early patrons, Cardinal Francesco Barberini Financial difficulties arose with the departure to Spain of Barberini, accompanied by Cassiano dal Pozzo, the antiquarian and the Cardinal's secretary, who later would become a great friend and patron However, their return from Spain in 1626 stabilized Poussin’s position, with renewed patronage by the Barberini and their circle Two major commissions at this period resulted in Poussin's early masterwork, the Barberini Death of Germanicus 1628, partly inspired by the reliefs of the Meleager sarcophagus,8 and the commission for St Peter's that amounted to a public debut, the Martyrdom of St Erasmus 1629, Vatican Pinacoteca, indebted to designs on the same subject by the contemporary Baroque painter, Pietro da Cortona9 He fell ill at this time and was taken into the house of his compatriot Jacques Dughet, where he was nursed by Dughet’s daughter, Anna Maria, who Poussin married in 1630 His two brothers-in-law were artists and Gaspard Dughet later took Poussin’s surname10

Poussin's Tancred and Erminia early 1630s, oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum shows an evolution from Poussin's early emulation of Caravaggio to a return to classicism The Inspiration of the Poet, c 1630 detail

During the late 1620s and 1630s, he experimented and formulated his own style He studied the Antique as well as works such as Titian’s Bacchanals The Bacchanal of the Andrians, Bacchus and Ariadne, and The Worship of Venus at the Casino Ludovisi and the paintings of Domenichino and Guido Reni11 At the same time, the Roman Baroque was emerging: in the 1620s Cortona was producing his early Baroque paintings for the Sacchetti family; Bernini, having established his reputation in sculpture, was designing the great bronze baldachin in St Peter’s; and an ingenious architectural imagination was emerging in works by Borromini

Poussin became acquainted with other artists in Rome and tended to befriend those with classicizing artistic leanings: the French sculptor François Duquesnoy whom he lodged with in 1626; the French artist Jacques Stella; Claude Lorraine; Domenichino; Andrea Sacchi; and joined an informal academy of artists and patrons opposed to the current Baroque style that formed around Joachim von Sandrart

At the time the papacy was Rome’s foremost patron of the arts Poussin’s Martyrdom of St Erasmus for St Peter’s was Poussin’s only papal commission, secured for him by Cardinal Barberini, the papal nephew, and Poussin was not asked again to contribute major altarpieces or paint large scale decorations for a pope12 His subsequent career depended on private patronage Apart from Cardinal Francesco Barberini, his first patrons included Cardinal Luigi Omodei, for whom he produced the Triumphs of Flora c 1630–32, Louvre; Cardinal de Richelieu, who commissioned various Bacchanals; Vincenzo Giustiniani, for whom he painted the Massacre of the Innocents uncertain early date, Museé Condé, Chantilly;13 Cassiano dal Pozzo who became the owner of the first series of the Seven Sacraments late 1630s, Belvoir Castle; and Paul Fréart de Chantelou, with whom Poussin, at the call of Sublet de Noyers, returned to France in 1640

In Franceedit

Louis XIII conferred on him the title of First Painter in Ordinary In two years at Paris he produced several pictures for the royal chapels the Last Supper, painted for Versailles, now in the Louvre, eight cartoons for the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, the series of the Labors of Hercules for the Louvre, the Triumph of Truth for Cardinal Richelieu Louvre, and much minor work

In 1642, disgusted by the intrigues of Simon Vouet, Fouquières and the architect Jacques Lemercier, Poussin withdrew to Rome There, in 1648, he finished for de Chantelou the second series of the Seven Sacraments Bridgewater Gallery, and also his noble Landscape with Diogenes Louvre This painting shows the philosopher discarding his last worldly possession, his cup, after watching a man drink water by cupping his hands14 In 1649 he painted the Vision of St Paul Louvre for the comic poet Paul Scarron, and in 1651 the Holy Family Louvre for the duc de Créquy Year by year he continued to produce an enormous variety of works, many of which are included in the list given by Félibien

He suffered from declining health after 1650, and was troubled by a worsening tremor in his hand, evidence of which is apparent in his late drawings15 He died in Rome on 19 November 1665 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, his wife having predeceased him Chateaubriand in 1820 donated the monument to Poussin

Poussin left no children, but he adopted as his son Gaspard Dughet Gasparo Duche, his wife's brother, who became a painter and took the name of Poussin


The Rape of the Sabine Women, c 1638, Louvre Et in Arcadia ego Les Bergers d’Arcadie, late 1630s, oil on canvas, 85 x 121 cm, Louvre Triumph of Pan, c 1635, Pen and ink with wash, over black chalk and stylus, Royal Collection

Throughout his life Poussin stood apart from the popular tendency toward the decorative in French art of his time In Poussin's works a survival of the impulses of the Renaissance is coupled with conscious reference to the art of classical antiquity as the standard of excellence His goal was clarity of expression achieved by disegno or ‘nobility of design’ in preference to colore or color16 Perhaps his concern with disegno can best be seen in the line engraved copies of his works; among the many who reproduced his paintings, some of the most successful are Audran, Claudine Stella, Picart and Pesne

Poussin's works dating from his first years in Rome show the influence of the poetry of Ovid and Tasso "Rarely has a painter come so near the sounds and moods of poetry", the art historian Willibald Sauerländer says of such paintings as Venus Weeping for Adonis 1626, in which "a consonance is struck between the pagan and the Christian world, a consonance to be found again and again in Poussin's paintings to the very end"17 Although the sensuous poetry of his early period is absent from austere later works such as The Four Seasons 1660–64, the mingling of Christian and pagan themes remains: to represent Spring, traditionally personified by the Roman goddess Flora, Poussin instead depicts Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden; Summer is symbolized not by Ceres but by the biblical Ruth17

In contrast to the warm and atmospheric style of his early paintings, Poussin by the 1630s developed a cooler palette, a drier touch, and a more stage-like presentation of figures dispersed within a well defined space4 In The Triumph of David c 1633–34; Dulwich College Picture Gallery, the figures enacting the scene are arranged in rows that, like the architectural facade that serves as the background, are parallel to the picture plane4 The violence of The Rape of the Sabine Women c 1638; Louvre has the same abstract, choreographed quality seen in A Dance to the Music of Time 1639–404

Themes of tragedy and death are prevalent in Poussin's work18 Et in Arcadia ego, a subject he painted in about 1630 and again in the late 1630s, exemplifies his cerebral approach In this composition, idealized shepherds examine a tomb inscribed with the title phrase, which is usually interpreted as a memento mori: "Even in Arcadia I exist", as if spoken by personified Death According to art historian Christopher Wright, Poussin intended his figures to "display the most distilled and most typical attitude and emotion for the role they were playing", but he was concerned with emotion "in a generalized and not specific way Thus in both compositions of Et in Arcadia Ego Chatsworth and Louvre the theme is the realization of death in life The specific models hardly matter We are not intended to have sympathy with them and instead we are forced by the artist to think on the theme"18 The art historian Hugh Brigstocke says Poussin's "supreme achievement as a painter lies in his unrivalled but hard-won capacity to subordinate dramatic narrative and the expression of extreme states of human passions to the formal harmony of designs based on the beauty and precision of abstract forms"4

Poussin is an important figure in the development of landscape painting In his early paintings the landscape usually forms a graceful background for a group of figures; later he progressed to the painting of landscape for its own sake, although the figure is never entirely absent Examples are Landscape with St John on Patmos 1640; Art Institute of Chicago and Landscape with a Roman Road 1648; Dulwich Picture Gallery19

Contrary to the standard studio practice of his time, Poussin did not make detailed figure drawings as preparation for painting, and he seems not to have used assistants in the execution of his paintings4 He produced few drawings as independent works, aside from the series of drawings illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses he made early in his career His drawings, typically in pen and ink wash, include landscapes drawn from nature to be used as references for painting, and composition studies in which he blocked in his figures and their settings He often made and arranged miniature wax figures from which to draw his composition sketches4 Pierre Rosenberg described Poussin as "not a brilliant, elegant, or seductive draughtsman Far from it His lack of virtuosity is, however, compensated for by uncompromising rigour: there is never an irrelevant mark or a superfluous line"20


Poussin was a prolific artist Among his many works are:

The Four Seasons: Summer, or Ruth and Boaz, 1660–1664, oil on canvas, 118 x 160 cm, Louvre Museum The Continence of Scipio, 1640, oil on canvas, 116 x 150 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
  • Some of the paintings by Poussin at the Louvre, Paris:
    • The Inspiration of the Poet 1629–1630
    • The Plague at Ashdod 1630
    • Les Bergers d’Arcadie late 1630s
    • The Judgment of Solomon 1649
    • The Blind Men of Jericho 1650
    • Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice c1650
    • The Adulteress 1653
    • The Four Seasons series; 1660–1664
  • A few of Poussin’s other paintings:
    • Adoration of the Golden Calf National Gallery, London
    • The Crossing of the Red Sea National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
    • Nymphs and a Satyr 1627; Cleveland Museum of Art
    • The Return of the Holy Family to Nazareth 1627; Cleveland Museum of Art
    • Holy Family on the Steps 1648; Cleveland Museum of Art
    • Cacus St Petersburg
    • The Testament of Eudamidas Copenhagen
    • Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus 163421
    • Tancred and Erminia, second version Barber Institute, Birmingham
    • The Rape of the Sabine Women 1636
    • The Destruction of Jerusalem 1637
    • Hebrews Gathering Manna 1639
    • A Dance to the Music of Time 1639–1640; Wallace Collection, London
    • The Continence of Scipio 1640; Pushkin Museum, Moscow
    • Ecstasy of Saint Paul 1643; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
    • Moses Rescued from the Waters 1647
    • Eliezer and Rebecca 1648
    • The Funeral of Phocion 1648; National Museum Cardiff
    • Landscape with Polyphemus 1649
    • Seven Sacraments two separate series, see main article for details as to locations
    • The Flight into Egypt 1657; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon


Cartouche with the bust of Nicolas Poussin in the garland of flowers, Daniel Seghers, c 1650–1651, National Museum, Warsaw

Poussin has been called "the springboard for the greatest French artists from David to Matisse" by Michael Kimmelman, who says "his work, in its lucidity, intelligence and measured sensuality, exemplifies what makes French art French"22

Initially, Poussin's genius was recognized only by small circles of collectors In the two decades following his death, a particularly large collection of his works was amassed by Louis XIV23 At the same time, it was recognized that he had contributed a new theme of "classical severity" to French art His style was imitated by many of his contemporaries, and influenced the work of French artists such as Jacques Stella and Sébastien Bourdon, the Italian painter Pier Francesco Mola, and the Dutch painter Gerard de Lairesse24

Poussin's example remained a strong influence on the academic tradition in European painting until the late 19th century25 Jacques-Louis David resurrected a style already known as "Poussinesque" during the French Revolution in part because the leaders of the Revolution looked to replace the frivolity and oppression of the court with Republican severity and civic-mindedness, most obvious in David's dramatic canvas of Brutus receiving the bodies of his sons, sacrificed to his own principles, and the famous Death of Marat Benjamin West, an American painter of the 18th century who worked in Britain, found inspiration for his canvas of The Death of General Wolfe in Poussin's The Death of Germanicus26

Throughout the 19th century, Poussin, available to the ordinary person's gaze because the Revolution had opened the collections of the Louvre, was inspirational for self-reflexive artists who pondered their own work methods Cézanne, who was described in 1907 by Maurice Denis as "the Poussin of Impressionism",27 was quoted as saying that he wanted to "re-do Poussin over again after nature"28 Georges Seurat was another Post-Impressionist artist who admired the formal qualities of Poussin's work Also appealing was the eroticism of some of Poussin's classicizing subjects

In the 20th century, art critics have suggested that the "analytic Cubist" experiments of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were founded upon Poussin's example29 In 1963 Picasso based a series of paintings on Poussin's The Rape of the Sabine Women The work of Jean Hugo was also influenced by Poussin

The most famous 20th-century scholar of Poussin was the Englishman Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, who in 1979 was disgraced by revelations of his complicity with Soviet intelligence30

The finest collection of Poussin's paintings is at the Louvre in Paris, where they reside in a gallery dedicated to him Other significant collections are in the National Gallery in London; the National Gallery of Scotland; the Dulwich Picture Gallery; the Musée Condé, Chantilly; the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; and the Museo del Prado, Madrid


See alsoedit

  • Category:Paintings by Nicolas Poussin
  • List of Nicolas Poussin paintings
  • Poussinists and Rubenists


  1. ^ His Lives of the Painters was published in Rome, 1672 Poussin's other contemporary biographer was André Félibien
  2. ^ Thompson et al 1992, p 7
  3. ^ Wright 1985, p250
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Brigstocke
  5. ^ Chilvers 2009, p 496
  6. ^ Standring 2009
  7. ^ In a census of 1624 Friedlaender
  8. ^ In the Barberini inventory; now at Minneapolis Institute of Arts The Meleager sarcophagus seen by Poussin is that now in the Capitoline Museums
  9. ^ Blunt1958, pp 85–88
  10. ^ Blunt 1958, p55
  11. ^ Blunt 1958, pp 54–59
  12. ^ Wright 1985, p18
  13. ^ There is a first sketch in the British Museum
  14. ^ Wright 1985, p 211
  15. ^ Wright 1985, p 254
  16. ^ Pace
  17. ^ a b Sauerländer 2016
  18. ^ a b Wright 1985, p 13
  19. ^ Poussin and The Heroic Landscape by Joseph Phelan, retrieved December 17, 2009
  20. ^ Rosenberg, Pierre "Poussin Drawings from British Collections Oxford" The Burlington Magazine, vol 133, no 1056, 1991, pp 210–213
  21. ^ New layer discovered in French masterpiece
  22. ^ Kimmelman 1996
  23. ^ Wright 1985, pp 255, 261
  24. ^ Wright 1985, p 11
  25. ^ Thompson et al 1992, p 54
  26. ^ Facos 2011, pp 32, 53
  27. ^ Russell 4 November 1990
  28. ^ Thompson et al 1992, p 52
  29. ^ Wilkin
  30. ^ see Miranda Carter, Anthony Blunt: His Lives Picador USA 2003


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed 1911 "Poussin, Nicolas" Encyclopædia Britannica 11th ed Cambridge University Press 
  • Blunt, Anthony 1958 Nicholas Poussin Phaidon
  • Brigstocke, Hugh "Poussin, Nicolas" Grove Art Online Oxford Art Online Oxford University Press Web subscription required
  • Chilvers, Ian 2009 The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 019953294X
  • Facos, Michelle 2011 Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Art New York: Routledge ISBN 1136840710
  • Friedländer, Walter 1964 Nicolas Poussin: A New Approach New York: Abrams 1964 OCLC 2922468
  • Kimmelman, Michael, "When Poussin Drew for Himself", The New York Times", 23 February 1996 Retrieved 16 February 2013
  • Pace, Claire, "Disegno e colore" Grove Art Online Oxford Art Online Oxford University Press Web subscription required
  • Russell, John 4 November 1990 "Art View; Back and Forth Between Poussin and Cezanne" The New York Times Retrieved 19 December 2015
  • Sauerländer, Willibald 14 January 2016 "Happy Anniversary, Nicolas Poussin" The New York Review of Books 63 1: 46, 48
  • Standring, Timothy "Poussin's Erotica", Apollo magazine, 2009-03-01 Retrieved 28 May 2009
  • Thompson, James, Poussin, N, & Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, NY 1992 Nicolas Poussin New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art 50 3, pp 1, 3–56, OCLC 27763575
  • Wilkin, Karen January 1995 "The 'High Art' of Nicolas Poussin" The New Criterion on line Retrieved 15 December 2015
  • Wright, Christopher 1985 Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné New York: Hippocrene ISBN 0-87052-218-3

Further readingedit

  • Blunt, Anthony 1966 The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin: A Critical Catalogue London: Phaidon OCLC 349831
  • Blunt, Anthony 1967, Nicolas Poussin, Pallas Athene, ISBN 1-873429-64-9 
  • Cropper, Elizabeth and Charles Dempsey 1995 Nicolas Poussin: Friendship and the Love of Painting Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995 ISBN 978-0-691-05067-6
  • Keazor, Henry 1998 Poussins Parerga Quellen, Entwicklung und Bedeutung der Kleinkompositionen in den Gemälden Nicolas Poussins Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg ISBN 3-7954-1146-7
  • Keazor, Henry 2007 Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665 Taschen, Hong Kong, Köln, London et al ISBN 3-8228-5319-4/ISBN 978-3-8228-5319-1
  • Mérot, Alain 1990, Nicolas Poussin, Abbeville Press, ISBN 1-55859-120-6 
  • Serres, Michel 1995 Genesis Grasset Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press ISBN 978-0-472-08435-7 OCLC 31937184
  • Thuillier, Jacques 1995 Nicolas Poussin Paris: Flammarion ISBN 2-08-012440-4
  • Thuillier, Jacques 1995 Poussin before Rome: 1594-1624, translated from the French by Christopher Allen 1995 London, New York and Chicago: Richard L Feigen & Co ISBN 1-873232-03-9
  • Unglaub, Jonathan 2006 Poussin and the Poetics of Painting: Pictorial Narrative and the Legacy of Tasso Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006 ISBN 978-0-521-83367-7


  • Paris 1960 "Poussin peintre: retrospectif" Galvanized the renewed interest in Poussin
  • Fort Worth 1988 "Poussin: The Early Years in Rome: The Origins of French Classicism"
  • Paris 1994 "Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665" Grand Palais
  • New York City 2008 "Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions" Metropolitan Museum of Art; Poussin's landscapes

External linksedit

  • A 16min educational film about Nicolas Poussin
  • NicolasPoussinorg – 92 works by Nicolas Poussin
  •  Herbermann, Charles, ed 1913 "Nicolas Poussin" Catholic Encyclopedia New York: Robert Appleton Company 

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