poussin: transposing the poets’s world

Just as it abstracts the figures in the foreground, Nicolas Poussin’s geometry opens up nature in the background. The narrow dramatic stage now gives way to a landscape so vast that, it appears it  would take more than a day to cross it on foot. Poussin’s landscape is unraveled by roads that force the eye to explore it in repeated diagonals, thereby not only lending a feeling of ampleness to canvases of small dimensions, but laying out his earth’s anatomy; and one is reminded of Goethe’s remark that he could never understand a landscape until he knew its geological constitution.

---Landscape with Orpheus and Euridice: 1648...Less severe than the Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe is the Landscape with Orpheus and Euridice in the Louvre. Here the artist was dealing with a much less solemn subject, but even so the forms are rather hard. The whole has the feeling of having been put together in pieces like a jig-saw puzzle, rather than composed as a single entity as was the Diogenes, surely one of the most perfectly ordered but naturalistic landscapes ever painted. Read More:http://hoocher.com/Nicolas_Poussin/Nicolas_Poussin.htm

This new, enormous room is, for the first and only time in the history of art, unbroken. The impact of a group assembled in the foreground is carried to the remotest reaches by the presence, in the distance, of a group similarly cadenced. Rhythms and parallels animate the entire space with carefully calculated echoes and reverberations. The river is still there; indeed, the rivers themselves, through their crystal tranquility, turn into bridges of reflecting, magnifying , and prolonging shapes and colors from the one bank to the other. Thus Orpheus playing to Eurydice on the close shore, the bathers on the other, and the earth all around them participate in a single concert, a composition in the truest sense, directed by that invisible wand: the ruler.

Poussin. Ruth and Boaz.--- Christiansen calls Poussin the landscape painter a "proto-romantic. I would put this point in a stronger way. Once Constable’s pure landscapes appeared, Clement Greenberg’s modernist separation of literature from visual art was in the wings. Ambitious painting no longer needed to ally itself with texts. Of course, visual modernism did not only involve landscape painting. More often, in fact, it was associated with Baudelairian urban subjects. But once this genre was developed, then the way was open to thinking in formalist terms that a significant painting’s subject was essentially irrelevant to judging its aesthetic value. As I reconstruct Christiansen’s concerns, one goal is to make Poussin acceptable to contemporary taste by focusing on the landscapes. In the nineteenth century, two very different Poussins appear, the history painter and "a painter of nature whose works could be appreciated with little or no literary knowledge." To understand the history paintings, we must know the story depicted. But with a landscape, there is no deeper, hidden meaning requiring exegesis. What then has gone wrong, Christiensen suggests, is the recent tendency of scholarship to treat the landscapes as if they were history paintings. He seeks simpler interpretations. How, then, should we understand the title of the exhibition, "Poussin and Nature ? Read More:http://journal.utarts.com/articles.php?id=17&type=paper

For Poussin, however, mathematical order is a means, not an end. It reconciled in him the poet and the peasant; but once the service was performed, it retreated discreetly, leaving them face to face. And now the peasant had his revenge, not by rejecting the poet’s world, but by transposing it, by rephrasing it in natural, almost homely terms. Orpheus stroking the lyre becomes a farmer playing his bagpipes; the horses that once drew Apollo’s chariot now pull the plow.

In the filigree, so to say, of the dry Roman countryside reappears the verdant richness of Normandy, which Poussin had left nearly fifty years before. Rivers had always been a favorite theme of the artist, raised on the banks of the Seine. Now, in his late work, cliffs reminiscent of those near Les Andelys, his hometown, rise up on the Tiberine shores, and in the Castel Sant’ Angelo as painted into Orpheus and Eurydice we perceive a reminiscence of the Chateau Gaillard, the stronghold of Richard the Lion Hearted. The vegetation, too, becomes thicker, moister, and the apple trees in Spring and Autumn are the pride of a Norman orchard.

Poussin. Spring. ---Without mentioning the sublime, Richard Wollheim wrote that Poussin shows correspondence between nature—nature considered broadly as the backdrop to human action—and what might be called mental fecundity... that unbounded capacity of the mind... to generate an indefinite profusion of thoughts, memories, images, wishes, hopes, fears. Nature, both understood literally as the landscape scenes and in Wollheim’s broader terms, he alludes to a psychoanalytic conception of human nature, is challenging to a seicento painter because it seems to be formless. But he did not anticipate Christiansen’s analysis, which, so far as I can see, is entirely original. I myself would be happier if Christiansen did not ask that we "return to the magic of the pictures themselves," as if their visual qualities were transparently accessible. The real difficulty I have with his analysis lies in the terms of debate. Either Poussin’s pictures are highly subtle illustrations of literary references, or they are beautiful landscapes. I agree with Christiansen: the development of ever more elaborate iconographic interpretations no longer seems productive. Read More:http://journal.utarts.com/articles.php?id=17&type=paper image:http://www.metmuseum.org/special/poussin_nature/view_1.asp?item=11&view=l



Butterfield:The late landscapes are images of heavenly beauty, and yet many historians today believe that they were born of Poussin’s disgust for the evils of the earth. Certainly, his letters of these years are filled with bitter and angry comments about the political turmoil that beset Europe, especially the Fronde, the civil war that raged in France from 1648 to 1653. For example, in a letter in August 1648 Poussin wrote:

I fear the malignity of our times. Virtue, conscience and religion are banished among men. Nothing but vice, trickery and self-interest reign. Al

lost. I have lost hope in the existence of Good. Everything is filled with evil….

---Poussin was the innovator of Classical landscape, although only about a dozen of his pictures of this type survive. Their stylistic source was the Aldobrandini Lunettes by Annibale Carracci, assisted by Domenichino and Lanfranco. Poussin abandoned many of the Italians' concessions to realism and retreated into a totally artificial world devoid of subtle light or atmosphere. The earliest of the truly Classical landscapes is probably the Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake. In this picture a drama is taking place, but it is not immediately apparent. It was Poussin's aim to bring about this realization slowly in the spectator, through contemplation. A man lies dead in the foreground in the coils of a snake, and another man has come across the spectacle and is fleeing in terror. In the background a woman reacts to the terror of the man in flight, and in turn her reaction is noticed by a fisherman. Poussin has depicted a series of emotions in this extensive panorama which is painted in dense blues, greens and browns. The gloom of the scene is intended to provoke the spectator to contemplate the triumph of nature over man.---Read More:http://hoocher.com/Nicolas_Poussin/Nicolas_Poussin.htm

…It was in a state of despair that Poussin turned to making pictures of a more perfect world.

“Paintings enclose in narrow places, the space of earth and the heavens,” wrote Cardinal Federico Borromeo of Milan in 1628, “and we go wandering, and making long journeys [in them] standing still in our room.” It was to serve as the locus of such journeys of the mind that Poussin made his extraordinary late landscape pictures. They were meant in part to be places of mental repose, images to dwell on, and to dwell in, at least for a while. Read More:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/apr/17/the-magical-painting-of-poussin/?page=2

Read More:http://gombricharchive.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/showcom5.pdf

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