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Nicolas Poussin Master of French Classicism.

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Nicolas Poussin was born in 1594 near Andelys, Normandy, into a noble family. His father placed him with a master to teach him Latin, but the young Nicolas was only occupied with drawing. His meeting, at the age of seventeen, with the painter Quentin Varin, who was visiting Andelys to execute a series of altarpieces, probably determined his vocation.

Without informing his family, he went to Paris where he frequented humanist circles. The Italian Gian Battista Marino, the "Cavalier Marin", the poet of choice of Marie de Médicis, whom he met in Paris, commissioned a series of drawings illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses. It was Marino who introduced Poussin in Rome in 1624 to artistic and scholarly circles, and in particular to influential patrons, including the powerful Barberini family.

A philosopher-painter, Poussin was nourished by poetic texts that he illustrated with a very particular sensitivity. He considered painting to be an art that owed everything to thought: "No line should emerge from the painter's hand that had not been previously formed in his mind. His vision of the golden age of ancient humanity haunts the painter's dreams. Poussin did not include scenes from everyday life in his work.

As a history painter, he was inspired by the light, atmospheric colours and golden hues of Titian. Titian's influence can also be seen in the intervention of nature in his work through the use of landscapes and animals (Acis and Galatea in Dublin).

Poussin's artistic ideal is expressed through his choice to illustrate the rarest episodes of Greco-Roman myth or the Bible, reserving a special place for landscape in his pictorial treatment.

From 1633 onwards, his art reveals the important influence of Raphael in subjects that are often historical or biblical. Poussin composed two paintings representing The Shepherds of Arcadia. In the second version in the Louvre, the emblematic painting of 1638, Poussin opens us to the contemplation of the world. The main motif of the composition is the comforting gesture of the woman who places her hand on the shoulder of the young shepherd. The central theme in Poussin's work is indeed humanism. He invites the viewer to meditate.

His fame reached France and more particularly the court of Louis XIII, who made him his official painter. However, as he intended to remain free in his art and not to be criticized in any way, he only stayed in France for two years, despite receiving important commissions from the Cardinal of Richelieu. He returned to Rome in 1642.

Nicolas Poussin remains one of the great masters of 17th-century French painting. Paradoxically, however, it was in Rome that he developed the classicism that French art would claim throughout the 17th century. He became a reference for neoclassicals and moderns such as Picasso and Cézanne.

His health declined and he died in 1665, one year after the death of his wife. He is buried in Rome in the basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina.

Source : Beaux-Arts Magazine

Photo : Artsy

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