By Anne Leader
French-born painter Nicolas Poussin died on 19 November 1665 in Rome, his home for forty years. As a foreigner working abroad, Poussin initially found it hard to break into the Roman art scene dominated by papal politics, though he did receive important commissions from Marcello Sacchetti, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, and Cassiano dal Pozzo as he developed his signature artistic approach based on a deep understanding of classical art, poetry, and narrative. Though best known for his history paintings and poesie, Poussin also received commissions for altarpieces and devotional works, including his first public commission to decorate an altar at St. Peter’s. His reputation was further confirmed by his admission to the Accademia di San Luca in 1632.
Poussin briefly returned to Paris in 1640, where his reputation as a history painter had attracted attention. He preferred to work and live in Rome, however, and he was back in Italy by 1642. His restrained classicism nevertheless shaped the future of French Academic painting, as many of his canvases were exported back to French collectors from Rome.
Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1650 (Paris, Musée du Louvre); Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
Death of Germanicus, oil on canvas, 1627–8 (Minneapolis, MN, Minneapolis Institute of Arts); Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
Martyrdom of St. Erasmus, oil on canvas, 1628-9, for altar of St. Erasmus, St. Peter’s basilica, Rome (now Vatican Pinacoteca)
Assumption of the Virgin, oil on canvas, 1630-2 (Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art)
The Abduction of the Sabine Women, oil on canvas, 1634-5, owned by Maréchal de Créquy, French ambassador to Rome, 1633-4 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan, oil on canvas, 1632-3 (London, National Gallery