He tried to live in France from 1640-42, called back by King Louis XIII and the urging of Cardinal Richelieu who felt it imperative that France had greater artistic luster.Claude Lorrain was also compelled to return. Poussin had been appointed official First Panter which essentially meant chief decorator and supervisor of royal pomp. But Poussin could not fit into such a scheme, no matter how grand and he could not get used to the colder weather accustomed as he was to Rome. Essentially, he wanted to be commissioned and not commanded. And he did not like painting on a large scale such as the walls of a palace or church, where his will had to bend before an overall plan.
Poussin’s preference ran to the relatively small sized easel painting , executed in the isolation of his studio, which collectors could then purchase. Within the limited expanse of easel painting, the truths Poussin wished to render suffered least from dilution. Poussin went back to Rome because Paris wanted to strip the cornice off his pictorial universe.
Once again he resumed the routine which he was to keep until shortly before his death, on November 19,1665: rising early; walking an hour or two, usually on the Pincio, surrounded by acquaintances who listened attentively to his pronouncements on art; working till evening, when he would go out again and mingle with the people conversing on the Piazza di Spagna. His fame by now was immense. His paintings brought the highest prices in Rome, and at that, would be buyers had to wait for two years.
Yet Poussin lived with a simplicity worthy of the ancient stoics whose philosophy increasingly preoccupied him. To a Roman prelate who pitied him for not having even a single servant, he apparently replied, “it is I who pity you, Monsignor, for having many.” He might have lived royally by painting, -Like Rubens with his many assistants and prodigious production- but he chose to live humbly for it. Nothing could distract him from the perfecting of his art, which acquired an ever more rigorous gravity as it shifted from violent, human action to immobile, Olympian contemplation.
Indeed, the gods are our best guides to the comprehension of this change. Of them Aristotle wrote, “all that concerns action can only seem petty and unworthy.” They embody absolute virtue, pure essences, eternal being and so engage only in contemplation- theoria- as the Greeks named it, of the order that governs all things and beings. For the Greeks, this order, or “kosmos” was mathematical: contemplation was, in every sense, theoretical. What gave consistency to worldly appearances and actions was the underlying essences and their relations: mathematical figures and rhythms. Break open the Golden Apple; inside it, you will find the Golden Section.
Such precisely, is the road followed by Poussin in his radicalism: pure action led him to pure reason, and storytelling to geometrical statement. Such drawings show that he could rival Mondrian in his quest for abstract geometrical truth. And while the time in which he lived prevented him from aspiring overtly toward a solution so extreme in his paintings, he reaches the brink of it by infinitely subtle means in pictures such as The Confirmation, which leave our eye to face a symphony of hieratic forms., essential lines, and contrapuntal rhythms.
In such canvases Poussin carries out better than Gauguin himself Gauguin’s program: arrangements of lines and colors, using as a pretext some subject borrowed from human life or nature which represent
ing real in the vulgar sense of the word and which express no idea directly. In other words to make you think without ideas or images and only by the relationships that exist between our brains and arrangements of colors and lines. This is probably what Bernini meant when, gazing at The Confirmation, he said, “What Silence!” Poussin had come a long way indeed from “talking painting.”