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Nicolas Poussin and roman Influences
Nicolas Poussin and Roman Influences in France
The city and art of Rome had an enormous impact on the French Baroque Classical artist Nicolas Poussin and through him an effect on French art and artists in the following centuries. Poussin was greatly influenced by the classical ideals of Italian art and flourished in the art-loving city of Rome that encouraged a young artist to explore his abilities. Nicolas Poussin spent a most of his productive artistic career in Rome and over half of his life in the ancient city. Though Poussin was a known, practicing artist before he spent any time in Rome, it has been said that his successful artistic career actually began with his arrival in the city. While there, he served many Roman patrons but was also increasingly sought after by French patrons. Because of this he was able to influence the tastes of French patrons which in turn heavily impacted the future of French art itself. Poussin subsequently influenced diverse French artists, as Anthony Blunt states in Nicolas Poussin: The A. W. Lectures in the Fine Arts:
"For Ingres, for instance, Poussin was a model of classical composition, surpassed only by Raphael and the Antique; Degas saw in him 'purity of drawing, breadth of modeling, and grandeur of composition'; Cézanne aimed at revivifying Poussin's formal perfection by a renewed contact with nature; and the early Cubists saw in him the near-abstract qualities which they themselves sought." (Blunt, 1967)
Poussin also considerably affected the newly formed institutions of French art. The accepted teachings at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which was founded in 1648, were based upon Poussin's ideological values for art. His philosophy about the great importance of drawing as the crucial intellectual core of painting was a precept at the Academy. The new official stance on artistic value reflected Poussin's own artistic values and his belief in the superiority of history painting. Though in actuality many artist of the early eighteenth century followed his values more in belief than in actual practice, his influence is reemerges in artists like David and Ingres of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In this paper I will attempt to illustrate the notable and profound influence Rome had on the art of Nicolas Poussin and, through his work, the influence the city had on the varied development of French art (Russel, 1969)
Poussin's Early Life and Career:
Nicolas Poussin was born just outside Les Andelys in Normandy in the year 1594. Though his father had once been a soldier, his family was of the farmer peasant class. In spite of the modest means of his family, his parents struggled to give him a complete education in Latin and letters where he discovered at an early age his natural talent and interest for drawing. Close to the age of seventeen he met an artist by the name of Quentin Varin who had traveled to his hometown to paint altarpieces. Varin recognized the young Poussin's innate talent and greatly encouraged him to become a painter. So Poussin, at the young age of eighteen, ran away from his humble village to go to Paris (Russel, 1969). There in Paris, it is thought that he may have worked for a time with Quentin Varin, who was a Flemish painter, before working with a Flemish portraitist, Ferdinant Elle. Through these connections, Poussin was able to work with and befriend a number of Flemish painters while he was living in Paris. He also studied a bit while there, but his Parisian education did not inspire his imagination or challenge his abilities. He is said to have had very little regard for his French teachers, and claimed that the most important occurrence while there was an encounter with a courtier of Marie de Médicis by the name of Courtois. Courtois gave Poussin unlimited access to the vast royal art collections containing some of the great works of Raphael as well as many other talented Italian artists which immediately captivated Poussin. The result of his fascination with these works of art as well as his zest for the Italianate style can be found in his early work. It is at this time that Poussin began to discover a passion for classicism. He tried in vain twice to journey to Rome to further pursue his education in this style during the next decade, but was forced to turn back each time before he reached his destination. Meanwhile, he had some small commissions for minor works and decorative pieces in France while he continued to study his craft in Paris (Russel, 1969).
While still in Paris, Poussin began to make a name for himself, and by 1622 he had many patrons and supporters who recognized his talents. One important proponent was the Italian Giovanni Battista Marino and another was the archbishop of Notre-Dame de Paris who commissioned Poussin to paint a version of the Death of the Virgin. (Russel, 1969). This was most likely the last painting Poussin created in Paris before his departure for Italy in late 1623 or early 1634.
Poussin in Italy:
Upon his arrival in Italy, Poussin first went to Venice to live with his friend and patron Giovanni Battista Marino. By March of 1624, Poussin is listed as living in Rome with another French artist, Simon Vouet. Sadly, Poussin's Italian patron, Marino, died shortly after Poussin's arrival in Italy, but in a fortunate turn of events, Poussin was recommended to the Cardinal Francesco Barbarini through some of Marino's connections. After a short time of doing some work for Barbarini, the Cardinal left Rome and again Poussin was without a patron in Italy. Poussin struggled as a starving artist until Barbarini's return in 1626. Unfortunately Poussin soon fell ill. He was nursed back to health by a French family and eventually married their daughter. With the new stability of a family life and a steady patron, Poussin was finally able to dedicate himself to his original goal in Rome, and thus began his education by viewing the works of the great masters as well as sharing ideas and techniques with other young artists in the city. Rome at that time was, and is today, the ideal place for a young artist to learn and expand on his/her abilities. It provided a multitude of stylistic choices and examples from the grandeur of antiquity, the glory of the High Renaissance, and the budding appearance of a vibrant new style, Baroque. As a student of Rome, Poussin was able to research artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Caravaggio and Bernini. He was then able to take what he could from them and synthesize it into his own unique style with their masterpieces as guides. Poussin had access to not only the splendors of Roman architecture and art, but also to its libraries of drawings and writing of antiquity to gain inspiration. It was during this time in Rome that he finally seemed to flourish (Blunt, 1967).
Influences on Poussin's Style:
Poussin is said to have learned spatial construction and organization from ancient works of art and architecture (Russel, 1969). He is also said to have not copied entire works, but rather to have chosen specific figures or elements from these works for their classic nature and studied them thoroughly. Deriving much of his inspiration and compositional ideology from his analysis of the artwork in Rome, Poussin agreed strongly with the idea of the perfection of classical Antiquity. For him it was an ideal that was not just for his art, but was also for his life. Poussin admired the perfection of the ancient artists and strove to equal the importance of that perfection.
Poussin's artistic style did not only derive from Italy. He retained some stylistic elements from his French heritage. His exposure to Italian art helped to solidify some of the classical ideals that he discovered in his youth, and also helped him acquire a background for incorporating those ideals into his art. It is in the basic composition, however, that we see his French heritage. Like many French painters his works sometimes lacks a finite line of recession into the canvas, and instead devotes attention to the pattern of figures and forms on the planar surface. The space itself, unlike some Italian Renaissance works such as da Vinci's Last Supper, has no independent power. Space is portrayed with the use of overlapping and atmospheric perspective rather than the strict use of one-point linear perspective. In Poussin's work the vanishing point is without consequence as the eye is l
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