French painter. Active chiefly in Rome, he was the foremost exponent of 17th-century baroque classicism. He painted several major religious works, but is best known for his mythological and literary scenes executed in an austere classical style, for example, Et in Arcadia Ego (1638–39; Louvre, Paris). His style had a profound effect on the development of French art.
Poussin spent most of his working life in Rome, though he was briefly court painter to Louis XIII of France 1640–43. Despite his absence, he managed to win a high reputation in France, his style eventually becoming the official style of the French Academy under Lebrun. The restrained classicism of this style, which in part reflects a contemporary interest in Stoic philosophy, has parallels in the classical theatre of Corneille and Racine.
Among his major works are The Inspiration of the Poet 1636 (Louvre, Paris); Bacchanalian Festival, painted for Richelieu before 1641 (National Gallery, London); The Golden Calf, before 1634 (National Gallery, London); and The Entombment (National Gallery of Ireland). A superb self-portrait at the age of 56 is in the Louvre.
Born in Les Andelys, Normandy, he had some lessons in painting from a travelling artist, Quentin Varin, 1611, and in the following year went to Paris, where he stayed until 1624. Information is scanty about this period, but he seems to have worked with a Flemish painter, Ferdinand Elle, and to have been allowed to copy prints in the royal collection after Raphael and Giulio Romano. By 1621 he was working with Philippe de Champaigne on the decorations in the Palais de Luxembourg.
He was 30 when he went to Rome. At first he was much influenced by the Mannerist and baroque painting of the day, especially admiring Domenichino, with whom he worked, but broadly speaking his sources of inspiration can be reduced to three: antiquity, as represented by Graeco-Roman sculpture; Raphael, in religious and story-telling paintings; and Titian, in Bacchanalian and similar themes. From Raphael he learned how to convey the meaning of a subject by gesture; from Titian, whom he studied closely 1636–1640, the value of warmth and richness of colour, Poussin's intense blue and its foil of warm orange reflecting the Venetian influence.
He returned to Paris 1640, at the request of Louis XIII, to decorate the Long Gallery of the Louvre, but this proved an unhappy episode. He could no longer stand the colder climate, was unused to employing pupils, and was disturbed by the intrigues and jealousies of the art world of Paris. He went back to Rome 1642 and did not leave it again. His later work shows a growing austerity, apparent in the monumental calm of religious subjects, and also a growing concentration on landscape.
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