poussin : zest for the western spaghetti

Nicolas Poussin wanted to go to the source. And the source, at that time, was Rome…

Twice, he tried to reach it. Twice, lack of money stopped him. The decisive opportunity was given him in 1624 by a poet, the precious, then vastly famous Marino. The Italian concettist had divined Poussin’s genius, had asked him to illustrate his interminable poem, Adonis, then invited the painter to join him in Rome. So at last Poussin arrived in the Eternal City.

Rinaldo and Armida. 1625. ---Without mentioning the sublime, Richard Wollheim wrote that Poussin shows correspondence between nature—nature considered broadly as the backdrop to human action—and what might be called mental fecundity... that unbounded capacity of the mind... to generate an indefinite profusion of thoughts, memories, images, wishes, hopes, fears. Nature, both understood literally as the landscape scenes and in Wollheim’s broader terms, he alludes to a psychoanalytic conception of human nature, is challenging to a seicento painter because it seems to be formless. But he did not anticipate Christiansen’s analysis, which, so far as I can see, is entirely original. Read More:http://journal.utarts.com/articles.php?id=17&type=paper

For a number of years his life remained a difficult one. Marino, having reccomended Poussin to Cardinal Barberini, left for Naples where he died shortly after.  Barberini showed a friendly disposition but left Rome himself on a diplomatic mission. Without steady patrons Poussin lived poorly, selling his work for starvation prices. He was an isolated stranger wearing French dress which led him to be attacked one night by the local soldiery and wounded in the wrist. The French were not popular in the Papal states, at the time favorable to France’s enemy, Spain. In addition he was also seriously laid low with venereal disease which affected him the rest of his life.

Poussin. The Triumph of David. 1627-30.---The real difficulty I have with his analysis lies in the terms of debate. Either Poussin’s pictures are highly subtle illustrations of literary references, or they are beautiful landscapes. I agree with Christiansen: the development of ever more elaborate iconographic interpretations no longer seems productive. But what as yet remains inadequately described, I believe, are the purely visual qualities of Poussin’s landscapes. These paintings, though not physically very large, open up enormously deep spaces.---Read More:http://journal.utarts.com/articles.php?id=17&type=paper

After this nocturnal mishap, Poussin adopted Roman dress and moving up to the next level, took a Roman wife, the daughter of a humble pasty cook. Gradually, his situation improved, reputation grew, prices rose and he acquired influential patrons such as Cassiano dal Pozzo , a wealthy nobleman whose erudition and attachment to antiquity left a profound mark on him. A decade after his arrival, the lean times were over, and the lineaments of his personal style had begun to emerge.

It was a fortuitous time for Poussin to be in Rome despite the early hardship. The churches, in continual process of decoration and redecoration, became veritable studios and art galleries. Palaces and villas accumulated the treasures of ancient and renascent art. From this immense reservoir, artists borrowed freely; in those days, imitation was regarded as a virtue  rather than a vice. A head here, an attitude there, a drapery from somewhere else, so that the work of uninspired practitioners  often looked like a skillfully woven plaid of quotations.

---In Landscape with Phramus and Thisbe, for example, Thisbe is in the foreground; a fleeing man is behind her; in the third layer of the space, a lion attacks a horseman; behind them other figures respond to the story; and, still, the space goes farther back. And in Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, we have the dead man in the foreground; the man who responds and the woman who sees this running figure, but not the cause of his fear; while behind them figures lounge and, behind them, other men work on a boat, all far in front of a distant cityscape. Poussin inspires contemplative thought. Here, I follow Wollheim, because these deep walk-in landscapes demand prolonged attention. But he almost always blocks access by setting rocks and trees in the foreground---Read More:http://journal.utarts.com/articles.php?id=17&type=paper image:http://www.terminartors.com/artworkprofile/Poussin_Nicolas-Stormy_Landscape_with_Pyramus_and_Thisbe

This dominant eclecticism was flanked on the one side by the revolutionary realism of Caravaggio and his followers, underlined by their violent highlighting, and on the other by the theatrical pomp of the baroque, developed by Pietra da Cortona, Bernini, Borromini, with its insistence on irregularity, motion, illusionism, and flights of fancy.

Poussin responded vigorously to this wealth of models and incitements. His work, during that phase, is a series of continuous , sometimes contradictory, experiments. He drew after ancient bas-reliefs

t also in the streets of Rome and around it; he copied Titian’s bacchanals and illustrated Leonardo’s notebooks.

In turn, dramatic and elgiac, he explored the realm of mythology and chivalrous romance as well as religion; he even displayed on occasion a sensuality so voluptuous that some pictures actually shocked French collectors: one of his Venuses was thus censored beyond recognition.

Donald Kuspit:Paradise is a place where there is no time and death -- where one is always young and innocent, that is, does not have to face the real world, and have one’s face marked by it, because there is no real world. At least until one is expelled from paradise. But the avant-garde artist believes she will never be expelled from it as long as she keeps making young-looking art. In contrast, traditional art always discovers death in paradise, disillusioning us about youth, as Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego suggests. A face-lift is a fear-filled falsification of the truth of time, of transience. A face-lift is a futile attempt to deny the trauma of aging, decay and finally death. The signs of time can be eradicated on the outside, but time eats one up from the inside. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit8-17-07.asp


In these early pictures Poussin makes the landscape elements seem to smolder with intense ardor. He achieved this effect by applying the upper layers of paint in relatively thin and rough brush strokes that allowed the red-brown ground layer of paint to show through, giving the entire image a warm and sensual glow. In European poetry the tradition of describing nature with amorous metaphors was an ancient one going back all the way to the Homeric hymns. This tradition was still very much alive in literature at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in no small part owing to the popularity of the pastoral. For instance, borrowing imagery from Ovid, Milton in his poem L’Allegro in the 1630s could write: …

---In these early paintings Poussin depicts nearly all the figures in attitudes of reverie or longing. Some are shown in states of moody contemplation or poetic musing; for instance, the nymph at the center of Landscape with a Nymph and Sleeping Satyr seems to be dreaming, while Midas in Midas at the Source of the River Pactolus looks lost in thought. In other paintings, such as Venus Anointing the Dead Adonis, the yearning takes on an elegiac cast; and in still other pictures, Poussin concentrates on erotic desire. This is especially true of Venus (or a Nymph) Spied On by Satyrs, where the satyrs lust for a beautiful nude who, with her head back, her eyes closed, and her hand touching her mons veneris, is shown enrapt in sexual fantasy. Poussin’s focus on the varieties of longing and dreaming is almost unparalleled in Renaissance and early Baroque art.--- Read More:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/apr/17/the-magical-painting-of-poussin/ image:http://artandpopularculture.com/Image:Venus_spied_upon.jpg

The frolick Wind that breathes the Spring,

Zephir with Aurora playing,

As he met her once a Maying,

There on Beds of Violets blew,

And fresh-blown Roses washt in dew,

Fill’d her with thee a daughter fair…

Poussin was extremely familiar with this tradition thanks to his friendship with Marino, whose poem L’Adone is a rich repository of the same vein of imagery. The artist read the book with the author, even making illustrations of it at his request, and Marino and Poussin also discussed how to translate the power of poetic language into the visual forms of painting. In L’Adone Marino wrote descriptive passages such as “Even the stones and the shadows of the place/sigh breaths of amorous fire.”1 In his early mythic landscapes Poussin sought to capture the same sense of pathos and inspiration as is conveyed by lush and elevated writing of this kind. Read More:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/apr/17/the-magical-painting-of-poussin/

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