The Art of Nicolas Poussin

Page 2 (32-61)

Paintings: (1-31) . (32-61) . (62-94) . (95-122) . (123-154) . (155-186) . (187-216) . (217-248). (249-280). (281-310) Drawings: (1-40) . (41-80) . (81-120) . (121-160)

Bacchus and Ariadne,
Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1665)
Oil on canvas
Madrid, Mues del Prado

Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Faleri,
Oil on canvasc. 1635-40

The second image looks the same but there are many differences. Strange that he would paint two paintings so similar yet so different.

Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii, c. 1635-40

Nicolas Poussin
French, 1594-1665
Oil on canvas
39-5/8 x 54 in. (100.6 x 137.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© 2002 The Norton Simon Foundation

The incident depicted here is from Livy's account of the life of Republican leader and general Furius Camillus. While the general was besieging the town of Falerii, a local schoolmaster lured his pupils to the Roman camp, hoping to offer them as hostages. Finding the schoolmaster guilty of treason, Camillus offered him up to his students for punishment. The schoolmaster's twisted and distorted figure becomes a symbol of immorality and evil. The ethical Camillus, by contrast, is erect and well proportioned. Whatever the political overtones, Poussin's composition encourages us to contemplate the difference between shapeless ugliness and harmonious form.

Cephalus and Aurora
oil on canvas
96.5 x 130.8 cm

Aurora, goddess of dawn, fell in love with the mortal Cephalus and tried to seduce him. He thought only of his wife Procris and rejected her. Poussin shows the cause of Cephalus' rejection of Aurora through the putto holding up Procris' portrait, a detail not included in the best-known version of the story in Book 7 of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'.

Aurora rises from the sea each day; hence the sleeping god is probably Oceanus. Her coming heralds the day; it is brought by Apollo, the sun god, driving his chariot. The figure to the left of the winged horse Pegasus may be Terra, a goddess associated with the beginning of the day.

The pose of Cephalus is similar to that of Bacchus in Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne', which was in Rome when Poussin was painting there. Oceanus is reminiscent of a figure by Agostino Carracci in the Farnese Palace frescoes in Rome which Poussin would have known.
Cephalus and Aurora
River-God in a Landscape
from Mr. and Mrs. Everett B. Birch
The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of Nysa; The Death of Echo and Narcissus

The painting shows Mercury delivering the newly born baby Bacchus to Ino.

Mercury was popular among the gods because he was playful, innocent, and helpful. Mercury helped his father,
Jupiter, when Bacchus was born. Bacchus was the son of Semele and Jupiter. When Jupiter and Semele first got to know each other, Jupiter was disguised in simple clothes. When he finally visited Semele as the god Jupiter, she was turned to ashes by his brillance. Jupiter took Semele's baby, Bacchus, and nurtured him until he was ready to be born. Once he was born, Jupiter gave Bacchus to Mercury to protect the baby from Jupiter's wife, who was jealous. Mercury put the baby Bacchus in the care of Io, Semele's sister.
The Nurture of Bacchus
1630 - 1635
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Faced with this fading myth, we can appreciate the merit of Poussin's art, who skilfully illustrates the youth of Bacchus (Dionysos) in "The chilhood of Bacchus" (about 1630), in a narrativity told from the painting's right to the left : The fair child crowned with ivy, sleeping on the visionary body of a mother who is not his own, the goat-kid shielded from the inquiring anger of Hera, then the older child introduced to wine by the satyrs, under the protective gaze of a spinner (perhaps Fate who extracts him from death ?) before finding the other spinner abandoned by Theseus. This fate is told from right to left yet can also be read emotionally in the opposite direction, as if we move from an obvious image which identifies the god (the intemperate drinker) to an image which reinstates his humanity (the victim of hybris propelled to Semele by Hera : see her divine lover in danger of losing his child and life).
The Nuture of Bacchus
about 1628

The subject of this picture comes from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (Books III and IV). Bacchus was the son of the god Jupiter and the mortal Semele. Jupiter's wife Juno brought about the death of Semele and Jupiter took the child from her womb and sewed it into his thigh, from where it was born. The infant Bacchus was watched over by Semele's sister Ino and Juno sought vengeance on Ino and her husband Athamas, but Venus transformed them into gods. Here, Bacchus' aunt Ino watches as he is held by his uncle Athamas.

The picture may be unfinished - this is particularly apparent in the areas of landscape to the left and right of the group of figures. It is related to a slightly earlier version (Paris, Louvre) of 1626-7 and, therefore, a date of 1628 is likely.

The Childhood of Bacchus
Landscape with Bacchus and Ceres
painted between 1624 and 1627

"I suppose it's almost a given fact that all of us have seen dirty pictures at one time or another. How'd you like to get paid to look at dirty pictures? Big bucks! Actually what you get paid for is cleaning them up. Okay, I'm not talking about pornography here now. I'm talking about the lonely life of an art restoration technician. It's tedious, it's time-consuming, and it's a solitary existence--hours spent totally immersed in the artwork of some great master; nose just inches from the canvas; perhaps viewing your work through binocular magnifying glasses; daubing away with Q-tips and solvent; delicately trying to remove centuries of dirt and varnish to reveal the beauty that gradually faded from view generations ago. Often the restoration work takes longer than it did the artist to create the painting in the first place. And sometimes, more than just revitalised beauty awaits the eyes of those paying the thousands, sometimes millions of dollars to have their artwork restored.

Recently the owners of a painting entitled Landscape With Arcadian Shepherds had it pulled from the vault of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, to be restored. A year later, they found themselves the proud owners of a Poussin! Nicholas Poussin (pronounced Pu-SAN) was a French artist born in 1594, famous for his classical subject matter and landscapes, but most importantly his careful attention to draughtsmanship. This painting, re-titled Landscape with Bacchus and Ceres, (once it was clean enough to actually discern the subject matter) was painted between 1624 and 1627 during a period of time when the artist was first establishing his reputation in Rome. It's an important piece because it came as the artist was struggling to find himself and find commissions through work in a wide variety of styles and subject matter.

Having previously been deemed by the Queen's art expert, Sir Anthony Blunt, to be too "crude" to be the work of Poussin, the owners quickly found themselves not only bearing the high cost of the restoration work, but that of a hefty, multi-million-dollar insurance policy as well. The painting is a typical Poussin, bucolic landscape with nude or barely clothed male and female figures frolicking together in an erotic idyll thinly cloaked in mythological respectability. In short, it was a highly saleable piece of artwork catering to the secular (male) tastes of the time. Even then, Poussin was astutely aware that "sex sells." He went on to produce and sell dozens of such paintings. It could easily be considered a prototype for the kind of painting that was to influence the primacy-of-drawing faction (Poussinistes) of French painting for generations to come. The painting is no longer literally a dirty picture, though the newly revealed subject matter might not have been far removed from that almost four hundred years ago when it was executed. "

With apologees !!!!!!

Mr. Barone-- A few days ago, in transferring an article from my old ArtyFacts web pages to my current blog, I went in search of an image to accompany an article I'd written about ten years ago on Nicholas Poussin and his painting, Landscape with Bacchus and Ceres, (re-posted 12-16-11). After some difficulty I was pleased to find it on your site: (page 2). I was not so pleased to find my entire, three-paragraph article reprinted word for word opposite the image, used without attribution or my permission. I'm guessing the article may have been copied from authorized reprints of the original ArtyFacts on In any case, though I was flattered that you deemed my article worthy to plagerize, I am dismayed that you didn't ask permission to use it or give me credit for writing it. In the interest of spreading art history, I'm not going to ask you to take down the article, however, I must insist that you give me credit in writing the "blurb" and install a link following it to my blog as indicated above. Thank you--Jim Lane

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery.
Oil on canvas.
Louvre, Paris, France
Christ on The Mount of Olives

Very similar to
The Agony in The Garden
Dance to the Music of Time
Wallace Collection,
London, England

A second view of this painting
a little darker in overall appearnace
but same painting.

The painting was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi who probably devised the subject: Poverty, Labour, Wealth and Pleasure dance an eternal round to the music of Time.

Nicolas Poussin, regarded as the greatest French painter in the seventeenth century, created A Dance to the Music of Time in 1638.  Although no specific painting style arose during the Baroque, this painting is considered Classical in form.  It conveys an intellectual message, a formal and systematic account concerning time and the destiny of humankind, appealing to reason over emotion.  Considered one of the world?s greatest paintings, A Dance to the Music of Time fulfills masterpiece criteria (see Appendix A)(Cumming 50).

      Virtuosity is the most important criterion when determining a work of art.  A great artist must exhibit mastery in skill and possess imagination along with knowledge to create an outstanding performance (Cumming 8).  Poussin uses precise and confident lines, and he gives meticulous attention to the smallest detail (Cumming 51).  From the dimple in the baby?s elbow to the curves and muscles of the human form, Poussin exemplifies reality.  The lines are straight and neat, and one could do no better with a ruler.

      Originality is another important criterion when distinguishing a work of art.  To be the first in creating an idea shows imagination.  An individual replicating a work of art is only half an artist while an individual originating a work of art is a true artist.  Poussin incorporates significance and meaning with symbols in A Dance to the Music of Time.  ?[He] set a standard of academic content and technical skill that many subsequent French painters, such as David and even Cézanne, strove to emulate? (Cumming 50).

      Proportionality is significant in a painting because of the harmony it creates.  Each part of the painting plays a major role tying the other parts together as a whole.  Cumming points out the magnitude to which Poussin accomplishes this feat: This painting is a masterpiece of precise and calculated composition and technique.  Underlying all Poussin?s paintings there is a complex, yet entirely rational and carefully worked-out, geometrical structure.  One of the pleasures in looking at his work is discovering this hidden geometry.  In this case, the circular motion of the dance is placed within a triangle. Poussin?s ability to incorporate geometrical shapes within his painting illuminates this virtuoso performance

      Though seldom recognizable today, an extensive language of symbolism was used in many works.  The use of these symbols gave way to a much deeper meaning surrounding the painting, and was understood by both the artist and audience.  Familiarity of the language can be relearned, if diminished, through study of the paintings and the society from which the artist came (Cumming 7).  A Dance to the Music of Time dominates this criterion.  The four dancers represent the four stages constantly revolving around Man:  Wealth, Pleasure, Industry and Poverty.  There is a strong grip between the hands of Pleasure and Wealth, but as Poverty desperately grasps for the hand of Wealth it is not clear whether or not she will ever grab hold.  Industry, Poverty and Pleasure are all looking towards Wealth while she meets the gaze of Father Time.  He plays the music for the dancers signifying that death is always present throughout life.  The little boy watching the hourglass signals the passing of time while the little boy blowing bubbles symbolizes the brevity of human life.  Up in the sky the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, rolls back the night, and leads the chariot of her brother, Apollo, the sun god.  He holds the circle representing eternity.  The maidens following the chariot are the Hours, and are the goddesses of the seasons.  They also dance in a circle, paralleling the dance in the foreground (Cumming 50, 51).
Diana and Endymion.
c. 1630.
Oil on canvas.
122 x 169 cm
The Detroit Institute of Arts,
Detroit, USA.

Selene in Greek mythology was the goddess of moon (Lat. Luna), whom the Romans identified with Diana (Gk. Artemis). The Romans worshipped her as a triple deity, Luna (the sky), Diana (the earth), Hecate (the underworld). According to myth she was the daughter of Jupiter and Latona (Leto), and the twin sister of Apollo.

Endymion, the beautiful youth who fell into an eternal sleep, has captured the imagination of poets and artists as a symbol of timelessness of beauty that is a 'joy forever.' Endymion, sent to sleep for ever by the command of Jupiter, in return for being granted perpetual youth, was visited nightly by the goddess. Poussin's painting shows Endymion awake, kneeling to welcome the arrival of the moon goddess, while her brother the sun-god is just beginning his journey across the heavens in his golden chariot.Poussin's Diana and Endymion, in which the heavy curtains of night are pulled back to reveal the chariot of the sun racing across the sky, gold on gold, witnesses art conversing across the centuries with art in a common idiom.

One of my favourites !
Echo and Narcissus.
Oil on canvas.
74 x 100 cm
Louvre, Paris, France.

Narcissus and Echo: a story of a handsome youth and the nymph who loved him but whose love was not returned. In Ovid's sad rendering of the myth (Met. 3:339-510) Echo was condemned by the goddess Juno to repeat only the last words that were spoken to her; Narcissus, as a punishment for spurning Echo, was made to fall in love with his own reflection, and pined away gazing at himself in a pool. At his death he was changed into flower that bears his name, and Echo in sorrow wasted away until nothing but her voiced remained.

In this representation Narcissus lies dead beside the water while Echo in the background grieves over him.

For more on Narcissus in Art please click here
Rebecca Quenching The Thirst of Elizer at the Well
Oil on canvas.
Private Collection
Elizer and Rebecca by The Well
Elizer and Rebecca
1655 - 1665
oil on canvas
height: 96.5 cm , width: 138 cm

bought: Blunt, Anthony  1984   ( Filtered for: Paintings, Drawings and Prints collection)
? Painted for Cassiano dal Pozzo (Blunt) but if Mahon's very late date is correct then it must have been painted for his younger brother, Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo, who was a close friend of Poussin; Private collection, Ireland; ? Calonne, sold Skinner and Dyke, London, 28 March 1795, lot 15; ? E. Perfect (anonymous) sale, Christie's, London, 8 July 1929, lot 73, bt. Duits, London from whom acquired 1933 by Anthony Blunt (when he was told that it came from the Galton Collection, Hadzor Hall, Cheshire - but he thought it more probable that the painting was that which Duits bought at Christie's in 1929
From the Gow Fund and the University Purchase Fund with contributions from the National Art Collections Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Esmée Fairbank Trust, The American Friends of Cambridge University, The Goldsmiths' Company, The Grocers' Company, Ciba-Geigy Plastics and with a number of private donations, encouraged by the Fitzwilliam Museum Trust.
Esther Before Assuerus.
Oil on canvas.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Bacchus and Apollo

A little better copy of this painting

Christ Curing The Blind
Descent From The Cross
Poussin Baptisizing Unknownjpg

Paintings: (1-31) . (32-61) . (62-94) . (95-122) . (123-154) . (155-186) . (187-216) . (217-248). (249-280). Drawings: (1-40) . (41-80) . (81-120) . (121-160)