Baroque and Rococo
 


     

Baroque and Rococo Art Map



Le Nain




see collection:


Nicolas Poussin

 

 
 

SCENES OF PEASANT LIFE BYTHE LE NAIN BROTHERS

Born in Laon, northeastern France, the three Le Nain brothers, Antoine (c.1593-1648), Louis (c.1593-1648) and Mathieu (c. 1607-77), were already working in Paris when they were still very young. They established themselves as portraitists as well as painters of the grand manner, producing religious and mythological works. However, their most interesting pictures are those of peasant life, such as The Peasants' Meal (attributed to Louis Le Nain). These are works that transcend genre painting: the everyday reality of the world of humble people is captured with an absolute frankness of observation that discloses the innate humanity of the subjects and their high moral dignity. However, his weaknesses include a certain awkwardness of composition.

 

Le Nain

French family of painters. Antoine Le Nain (b ?Laon, c. 1600; bur Paris, 26 May 1648) and his brothers Louis Le Nain (b ?Laon, c. 1600; bur Paris, 24 May 1648) and Mathieu Le Nain (b Laon, c. 1607; bur Paris, 26 April 1677) lived together and shared a studio in Paris. Since the studio was headed by Antoine, he is assumed to have been older than Louis. The brothers’ reputation rests on a number of paintings signed Le Nain, on the basis of which other paintings (but no drawings) have also been attributed to them. None of the signed paintings bears a Christian name, and there is no secure way of attributing works to the individual brothers, although many attempts have been made. Eighteenth-century sale catalogues, fearful of anonymity, effectively chose from the three names at random. Since the writings of Witt (1910) and Jamot (1922) in particular, it has been habitual to ascribe small paintings on copper to Antoine, and austere, larger peasant scenes to Louis. This division of hands will be found in almost all the subsequent literature on the artists, although it must be stressed that there is no evidence at all to support it. Great efforts have also been made to identify works by Mathieu, since he survived his brothers by nearly 30 years and presumably continued to paint after their deaths in 1648. However, no such activity after 1648 is securely documented, and none of the surviving works bears a date later than 1647; and the arguments for a separate Mathieu oeuvre, though cogent, should not be regarded as conclusive. The outstanding feature of the work of the Le Nain brothers, and the basis of their celebrity since the mid-19th century, is the artists’ treatment of the poor.

 


Le Nain
The Peasant Meal

1642
Oil on canvas, 97 x 122 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
 


Le Nain
Peasant Interior

1642
Oil on canvas, 55,6 x 64,7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
 


Le Nain
Smokers in an Interior

1643
Oil on canvas, 117 x 137 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
 


Le Nain
The Supper at Emmaus

1645
Oil on canvas, 75 x 92 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
 

 


Le Nain
Venus at the Forge of Vulcan

1641
Oil on canvas, 150 x 116,8 cm
Musee Saint-Denis, Reims
 

 

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Nicolas Poussin
 

NICOLAS POUSSIN

The foremost interpreter of 17th-century classicism, Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) studied first in Rouen and then in Paris, as a pupil of Lallemand. He was familiar with the Fontainebleau Mannerists as well as Raphael and his school, in 1624, Poussin went to Bologna, where he was influenced by the classicism of the Carracci Academy and Guido Reni before moving on to Rome. There, working alongside artists such as Pietro da Cortona and Giovanni Lanfranco, he experimented with the use of colour in the style of Titian (Death of Germanicus, 1627) During the years 1630 to 1640, he abandoned the Baroque in favour of a rigorously classical style moving towards a rational clarity and archaeological precision, seen in Rape of the Sabines. He was summoned to Paris in 1640 to oversee the decoration of the Grande Galerie of the Louvre, as well as to paint altarpieces and create frontispieces for the royal press. He decided to return to Rome after only two years, and spent the rest of his life there. Later, the Neoclassicists were to draw inspiration from his superb late landscapes, which included The Funeral of Phocion (1648). However, during the Romantic era, his reputation waned.
     

   
 



Nicolas Poussin


 
Self-Portrait


 

Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
(detail)
1650

At the left of the canvas there is a woman wearing a diadem with an eye. This has been interpreted as an allegory: painting crowned as the greatest of the arts.
 


Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
1650
Oil on canvas, 78 x 94 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
         

 

Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
(detail)
1650
 
Portrait of the painter Nicolas Poussin of Les
Andelys (painted) at Rome during the Jubilee
Year of 1650, aged 56 vears.

   
 

 

Nicolas Poussin's Self-Portrait, executed in 1650, is a painted theory of art: a cryptogram containing the aesthetic principles of an artist, who, since 1628, had spent most of his working life in Rome. Poussin had done an earlier version of the painting in 1649 (now in the Gemaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preubischer Kulturbesitz), painted to replace a disappointing portrait of himself which his Parisian patrons had commissioned from a Roman artist.
The most conspicuous motif of the earlier self-portrait is the "memento mori". The artist presents himself before a sepulchral monument - anticipating his own -flanked by putti; the expression on his face is almost cheerful. Viewed from a distance he appears to be smiling, while his head, inclined slightly to one side, suggests a melancholic mood . Cheerfulness in the face of death demonstrated the composure of the Stoics, a philosophy for which Poussin had some sympathy. The early self-portrait, too, contains an allusion to Poussin's theory of art: the title of the book "De lumine et colore" (On light and colour). Poussin's reference to colour here is less surprising than Anthony Blunt, who defined Poussin as a "partisan" of "disegno" (drawing, design), would have us believe. In his correspondence with Paul Freart de Chantelou, Poussin repeatedly defined the analysis of light as the basis of all painting. In Poussin's view, echoing earlier theories of art, colour was the modification of light. Poussin was therefore not as radical an advocate of the "designo - colore" antithesis as doctrinaire Classicist historians of art theory have suggested. His practice as an artist speaks against the view of him as onesided; instead it betrays the influence of the Venetian colourists, in whose work the world was suffused in a golden light.
In the self-portrait at the Louvre the artist, wearing a dark green gown and with a stole thrown over his shoulders, is shown in a slightly different pose: posture is erect, his head turned to present an almost full-
face view. His facial expression is more solemn, but also less decided. Instead of funereal symbolism, the setting is the artist's studio, lent a strangely abstract quality by a staggered arrangement of three framed canvases, one behind the other, whose quadratic structure is echoed by the dark doorframe behind them. It is apparent that the canvas nearest to us is empty, except for a painted inscription.
The empty canvas is a cipher for the "disegno interno" (internal idea), or "concetto" (plan), a conceptual version of the painting which, according to a theory formulated in 1590 by Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo ("Idea dell' tempio della pittura"), precedes its practical realisation. Poussin's emphasis of the painters ability to work with his intellect concurs with the ideas of the philospher and poet. At the left of the second canvas there is a woman in front of a landscape, wearing a diadem with an eye; a man's hands are reaching out to hold her
shoulders. This has - probably rightly -been interpreted as an allegory: painting crowned as the greatest of the arts. At the same time, the embrace is a symbol for the bond of friendship between Poussin and his patron Chantelou.
A tiny, but highly significant detail is the ring Poussin is wearing on the little finger of his right hand, which rests on a fastened portfolio. Studied closely, the stone reveals itself to be a diamond, cut in the shape of a four-sided pyramid. As an emblematic motif, this symbolised the Stoic notion of Constantia, or stability and strength of character. Poussin was referring here both to his friendship with Chantelou, and to his intention to remain firmly loyal to the strict discipline of heroic Classicism. Popularised by contemporary moralizing literature, the notion of personal identity had begun to make itself felt in this era for the first time, and constancy in a person's attitudes, thoughts and conduct was its most important quality.
Poussin struggled to maintain his independence of mind and loyality to his own ideals against the demands of the French court, and, in so doing, articulated the growing sense of autonomy of the ascendant bourgoisie.

Norbert Schneider

 
 

Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
(detail)
1650


The ring holds a diamond, cut in the shape of a four-sided pyramid. As an emblematic motif, this was the Stoic symbol of stabillity and strength of character.
 

 

Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
(detail)
1649


Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
1649
Oil on canvas, 78 x 65 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 

 
 

Nicolas Poussin
Self-Portrait
(detail)
1649

  
Nicolas Poussin of Les Andelys, Member of the Academy of Rome,
Principal Painter in Ordinary to Louis, the rightful King of France.
Painted at Rome in the year of our Lord 1649, aged 55 years.

 

 
   




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Nicolas Poussin


Nicolas Poussin

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born 1594, Villers, near Paris, Fr.
died Nov. 19, 1665, Rome, Papal States [Italy]


17th-century French painter, a leader of pictorial classicism in the Baroque period. Except for two years as court painter to Louis XIII, he spent his entire career in Rome. His paintings of scenes from the Bible and from Greco-Roman antiquity influenced generations of French painters, including Jacques-Louis David, J.-A.-D. Ingres, and Paul Cezanne.


Childhood and early travels

Poussin was born in a small hamlet on the Seine River, the son of small farmers. He was educated at the nearby town of Les Andelys, and he apparently did not show any interest in the arts until the painter Quentin Varin visited the village in 1612 to produce several paintings for the Church of Le GrandAndely. Poussin's interest in the arts was awakened, and hedecided to become a painter. As this was impossible in Les Andelys, he left his home, going first to Rouen and then to Paris to find a suitable teacher. His poverty and ignorance made this search very difficult. He found no satisfactory master and studied at different times under several minor painters. During this period Poussin endured great hardships and had to return to his paternal home, where he arrived ill and humiliated.

Recovering after a year, Poussin again set out for Paris, not only to continue his studies but also to pursue another aim. While previously in Paris, he had been exposed to the art of the Italian High Renaissance through reproductions of Raphael's paintings. These engravings, according to his biographer Giovanni Battista Passeri, inspired him to go to Rome, which was then the centre of the European art world. But only in 1624 was Poussin successful in reaching Rome, with the help of Giambattista Marino, the Italian court poet to Marie de Medicis.


First Roman period

Marino commissioned Poussin to make a series of mythological drawings illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses. Poussin meanwhile experimented with various painting styles then current in Rome, an important influence being that of the Bolognese painter Domenichino. Poussin's culminating work of this period was a large altarpiece for St. Peter's representing the “Martyrdom of St. Erasmus” (1629). But it was a comparative failure with the artistic community in Rome, and Poussin never again tried to compete with the Italian masters of the Baroque style on their own ground. Thereafter he would paint only for private patrons and would confine his work to formats rarely larger than five feet in length.

Between Poussin's arrival in Rome in 1624 and his departure for France in 1640 he came to know many of Rome's most influential people, among them Cassiano dal Pozzo, secretary to Cardinal Barberini, whose rich collection of ancient Roman artifacts had a decisive influence upon Poussin's art. Through Pozzo, who became Poussin's patron, the French painter became a fervent admirer of ancient Roman civilization. From about 1629 to 1633 Poussin took his themes from classical mythology and from Torquato Tasso, and his painterly style became more romantic and poetic under the influence of such Venetian masters as Titian. Such examples of his work at this time as “The Arcadian Shepherds” (1629) and “Rinaldo and Armida” (c. 1629) have sensuous, glowing colours and manage to communicate a true feeling for pagan antiquity.

In the mid-1630s Poussin began deliberately to turn toward Raphael and Roman antiquity for his inspiration and to evolve the purely classical idiom that he was to retain for the rest of his life. He also began painting religious themes once more. He began with stories that offered a good pageant, such as “The Worship of the Golden Calf” (c. 1636) and “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (c. 1637). He went on to choose incidents of deeper moral significance in which human reactions to a given situation constitute the main interest. The most important works that exemplify this phase are those in the series of “Seven Sacraments” painted in 1634–42 for Pozzo. While other artists painted in the style of the Roman Baroque, Poussin tried in these works to fashion a style marked by classical clarity and monumentality. This style was inspired by Roman pre-Christian architecture and Latin books on moral conduct, as well as by the nobility and greatness of Raphael's works, which, as he believed, had renewed the spirit of antiquity.


Painter to Louis XIII

Between 1638 and 1639 Poussin's achievements in Rome attracted the attention of the French court. Louis XIII's powerful minister Cardinal Richelieu tried to persuade Poussin to return to France. Eventually Poussin reluctantly acceded to this request, journeying to Paris in 1640. Though received with great honours, Poussin nevertheless soon found himself in trouble with the ministers of the king as wellas with the French artists, whom he met with the utmost arrogance. He was offered commissions for kinds of work he was not used to nor really qualified to execute, including altarpieces and the decoration of the Grande Galérie of the Louvre palace. What he produced did not elicit the praise he expected, so he left Paris in defeat in 1642 and returned to Rome. Unfortunately he did not live to see his own style of painting accepted and eventually glorified by the French Academy in the late 17th century.


Second Roman period

Many of Poussin's paintings on religious and ancient Roman subjects done in the 1640s and '50s are concerned with moments of crisis or difficult moral choice, and his heroes are those who reject vice and the pleasures of the senses in favour of virtue and the dictates of reason—e.g., Coriolanus, Scipio, Phocion, and Diogenes. Poussin's painterly style was consciously calculated to express such a mood of austere rectitude: such solemn religious works as “Holy Family on the Steps” (1648; see photograph) exhibit only a few figures, painted in harsh colours against the severest possible background. In the landscapes Poussin began painting at this time, such as “Landscape with the Body of Phocion Carried out of Athens” (1648) and “Landscape with Polyphemus” (1649), the disorder of nature is reduced to the order of geometry, and the forms of trees and shrubs are made to approach the condition of architecture. The composition in these paintings is worked out very carefully and has an unusual clarity of structure.

Poussin's health declined from 1660 onward, and early in 1665 he ceased to paint. He died that year and was buried in San Lorenzo in Lucina, his Roman parish church.


Assessment.

Poussin believed in reason as the guiding principle of art, yet his figures are never merely cold or lifeless. They may resemble figures used by Raphael or ancient Roman sculptures in their poses, but they retain a strange and unmistakable vitality of their own. Even in Poussin's late period, when all movement, including gesture and facial expression, had been reduced to a minimum, his forms harmoniously combine vitality with intellectual order.
 

 

 


Nicolas Poussin
Funeral of Phocion
1648
Collection of the Earl of Plymouth, Oakley Park, Shropshire

The classical view of nature and the outlines of the scattered buildings capture the viewer's attention over
the sad and subdued historic episode taking place in the foreground.
 


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Nicolas Poussin

 

 

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