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... than into it. This is because the forms in the painting work together on the surface as a wave of light and shadow that contributes to the movement of the eye and evokes a sense of time and space. The scenes of his paintings are arbitrarily cut out of a larger context rather than composed with a distinctive com positionally framed effect (Russel, 1969) Poussin's style, while incorporating some aspects of the Baroque sensibilities, was well labeled French Classicism.
To distinguish his style, however, as merely classicism would be to oversimplify his work and indeed the work of the period itself. French Classicism, while mostly classical in nature, embodies stylistic tendencies from many sources including naturalistic, realistic, and dynamic schools of art that lend it a diversity that is, in fact, inherent of all work of the Baroque period. Poussin's work exemplifies this ethic (Martin, 1977) Achieving his educational and artistic goal, Poussin continued his life in Rome painting for both Italian and French patrons. Though he moved back and forth between Rome and Paris, Poussin remained primarily in Rome. He was appointed the position as painter for the King of France and did many commissioned works for the king, while continuing to be inspired by the beautiful surroundings and venerable antiquity of Rome. In 1652 his slowed down his work ethic due to poor health, but was once again named First Painter to the King of France in 1655 (Russel, 1969).
By 1665 Poussin's adored wife had died and he was suffered from paralysis. He died and was buried in his beloved city of Rome on November 19, 1665. One of Poussin's most famous works, and an excellent example of his love for classical antiquity, is his The Rape of the Sabine Women. One can recognize this subject from the works of Livy and Plutarch with which Poussin was surely familiar. This painting depicts a famous image from Roman mythological history.
After the founding of Rome by Romulus, it was discovered that there were not enough women in the Roman population. In the interest of preserving his city, Romulus invited the people of a neighboring population, the Sabines, to a celebration within the walls of Rome. Upon their arrival the Roman men captured the appalled Sabine women. After much fighting, the Sabine men were defeated and retreated from Rome, leaving their women behind.
The women were then made wives of the Roman men, and according the myth it was soon realized by all that the violent event was in the best interest for the future of Rome Russel, 1969). In this image we see the event at the climatic moment of the actual capture of the women. The dramatic poses and rapid movement from highlight to shadow emphasize the intense emotion of these actions. At the time that Poussin painted this scene, this subject was thought to be a heroic one for Rome. Romulus, the stoic and almost religiously solemn figure at the upper left, is the hero. His violent actions and resolute attitude are for the good of Rome regardless of the barbaric way in which the event was carried out.
These acts were forgiven as just means to an end that shaped the future of the city of which the Romans were so proud. For this reason, the Rape of the Sabine Women was a popular subject and a popular painting. The subject and the setting of this work are a grand Italianate city and is classically Roman. The style in which the painting was produced, however, diverges from the Italian tradition in that Poussin, like many French painters of his time, did not focus on the depth of the image, but rather on the planar surface of the image.
It can be seen that in this painting, recession into space, while not unimportant, is not significant. One does not get the feeling of being drawn into the image because there is no distinct recession line and the figures are firmly grounded on the surface of the image. The activity produced by strong vertical, diagonal, and horizontal lines in the figures and structures, lead the eye around the surface of the canvas. A strong diagonal line leads from the bearded man in the lower right corner with his upward gaze, through the tip of the blade of his attacker, directly toward the figure of Romulus. This strong diagonal is slightly counterbalanced by a diagonal in the opposite direction produced by the flailing arms of the captured women. The Rape of the Sabine Women is an excellent example of Poussin's combination of his love of classical Roman antiquity and his French stylistic sensibility.
Another work that exemplifies Poussin's interest in classical antiquity is Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion from 1648. Though Poussin thought that landscape painting was not as much of an artistic achievement as that of history painting, he was actually a very successful and quite influential landscape painter. However Poussin's landscapes were more heroic rather than rustic which is unlike his Dutch and Flemish counterparts to the North (Russel, 1969). Poussin often portrayed events from classical tales in a landscape setting which makes his work more historical though the landscape is predominate. His settings were typically Italianate, reflecting the countryside surrounding him and not at all reminiscent of the landscapes from his native France.
In Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion we see another event from the writings of Plutarch. In this incident Phocion, an Athenian general, was unjustly killed by his own countrymen. The general was originally forbidden to be buried on Athenian soil, but was later brought back to Athens, was given a public funeral, and was memorialized by the state. In the foreground we see two soldiers taking the body of the general away from his homeland.
The figures are dwarfed and weighted down by the expansive landscape surrounding them, and seem completely isolated from their surroundings as if to indicate the isolation of the general from his own country (Russel, 1969). In this image we see a distinct Italianate style as well and resembles the works of Italian landscape painters of the same era. The solid structures, carefully arranged trees and distant forms are all indications of this style. Unlike many Poussin's figurative history paintings, in this painting we can see more of an influence of Italian spatial representation with a more distinctive vanishing point (Blunt, 1967). It is obvious that Poussin's art was heavily influenced the time he spent in Rome.
His exposure to the Roman culture and environment served only to strengthen his desire for knowledge and appreciation of classical antiquity. This influence can be seen in all aspects of his work as well as in the work of subsequent French artists. Poussin's profound influence on the art in France is apparent in the work of many individual artists. His values concerning subject matter, painting style, and artistic inspiration became the cornerstone of the Royal Academy which in turn influenced some of the most popular art in subsequent times. The Academy's system of rank and order controlled the primary artistic community in France. Following Poussin's artistic values, history painting was the most respected and ideal form of art because it required the vast knowledge of perspective, still life, anatomy, and landscape as well as many other aspects of art.
Therefore, for a time, the most well respected painters were history painters (Blunt, 1967). During the early and mid eighteenth century, however, artists like Our, Watteau, and Vernet dominated and most Academy artists did not actively follow Poussin's philosophies. The arrival of the neoclassical painters David and Ingres in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, began a renewed interest in Poussin's classical ideals as he continued to influence artists. Even the Impressionists and Cubists had an appreciation for Poussin's his work for, respectively, its perfection and near abstract qualities (Blunt, 1967). The influence of Rome extends throughout the world in artistic, philosophical, and political arenas.
One agent of that grand influence was Nicolas Poussin who brought Baroque Classicism and other aspects of Roman art of that time to France. Bibliography: Blunt, Anthony Nicolas Poussin: The A. W. Lectures in the Fine Arts. Bollingen Foundation, NY 1967. Martin, John Rupert.
Baroque. Harper & Row, NY 1977 Russel, John. The World of Poussin. Time Life, NY 1969
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