Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Episode 36: Poussin

Nicolas Poussin (15 June 1594 – 19 November 1665)

Poussin’s work embodies French art during the Baroque period in France, even though he lived and worked in Rome for most of his career. He never did well in a workshop, which was popular at this time, and always kept his work fairly small in scale. He would use wax figurines in shadow boxes to set up the composition of his paintings which were meticulous in their design.

He studied anatomy by speaking to doctors, was well versed in painting theory and believed that outward gestures showed inner emotion, which is why there is a lot of movement in his paintings.

Today we have major and minor scales, but Poussin was interested in modes, which are an ancient version of scales. For instance, Dorian mode is somber, Phrygian mode is sad or oriental sounding and Lydian mode has a comical quality and can be serious and tragic as well.  Poussin attempted to paint in modes in an effort to convey emotion.

Poussin worked for Cassiano de Potzo sketching ancient Roman ruins, this work really influenced Poussin’s classical taste and abilities in painting but his primary patron in Rome was Cardinal Francesco Barberini.

Up until the 20th century Poussin was a major inspiration for classically oriented artists like David, Ingres, and C├ęzanne.

Poussin, Self Portrait, 1650

Poussin, The Four Seasons, 1660-1664

Spring (The Earthly Paradise)  

Summer (Ruth and Boaz)  

Autumn (The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land)  

Winter (The Flood)  
Poussin, Et in Arcadia ego, 1637-1638
Poussin, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1634-35
The above painting is an excellent example of Poussin's use of color and movement. The colors are used to tell a story within the story. The Roman's have invited the Sabines to dine with them, instead of dinner they find themselves under attack and their women kidnapped. The man in the pink on the right side of the painting is attempting to save the woman in blue on the left side of the painting. The color pink may signify the mans weakness against the Roman's, who's leader is dressed in red. The story ends when the Sabines try to rescue their women from the Roman's but they're now happy with their lives in Rome and choose to stay. The term 'rape' in this instance means 'abduction'.

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