Poussin and the Exquisite Corpse
In my seemingly unending love affair with Nicholas Poussin, I have been visiting my local museums paying homage to his paintings. Last weekend my search led me to the Getty Center, this week , that jewel box nestled in Pasadena, the Norton Simon. Desperate perhaps to soak up some of Poussin’s mastery, I study his paintings very closely. There is of course his signature subtle brushwork, the quiet palette and that calm that Poussin is so well known; but I have been noticing another tendency, the Ashen Mask. By studying reproductions I first became aware of this , but when I visited the Norton Simon, I was struck by the ashen faced villain depicted in Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii.
I assume Poussin is merely depicting the Schoolmaster’s loathsome temperament by casting his face with a deathly pallor. But Poussin seems to have delighted in depicting fallen figures, often heroically , often of exquisite beauty.
Tancred and Erminia
oil on canvas
click image to enlarge, same for all subsequent images.
Capturing the vitality of the flesh seems of less importance to Poussin, he left that to Caravaggio; Poussin’s inspiration was classical Rome, his desire, to capture the grace of her antiquities. He of course succeeded, the chill is what draws me in, this reserve has me banging at his studio door wanting more, like a desperate suitor.
The door is closed, and I can only grapple with the opinions of scholars far more knowledgeable then this admirer with his schoolboy crush.
I will continue to admire, study and observe, humbled by his greatness, I hesitate to use genius as it is so often evoked (particularly in Los Angeles), that the word appears trite, which would not be my intention.
I settle upon greatness.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
What I love is how in the same year, Poussin, used the mirrored image in his Lamentation.
Virginal grief and erotic loss splitting our heroines with tremendous pain. The character I believe to be the Magdalene, is particularly heart wrenching.
The fallen son is exquisite.
Death as personified by Plague was a popular theme, not just for Poussin; it is difficult to visit any museum with a collection of 16th-17th century works and NOT encounter Rome littered with ashen infants and wailing mothers. Poussin’s depiction of Plague herself is incredible in the following painting.
This may be my favorite painting by Poussin, the Louvre link offers very interesting notes concerning the painting’s history.
An example of the aforementioned Plague genre by the master.
Musée du Louvre
I will close with a few snapshots of the Norton Simon Poussin, details of the Ashen Mask.
Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii
The following details offer examples of manliness untarnished by the Schoolmasters sins, their flesh robust and sound.
School begins tomorrow, I have an insane schedule, my posts may be more infrequent yet. I will try to squeeze in a few , but until that time I leave you with a link to a contemporary version of the Surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse. The link is epic as described, interactive and online, for those with Luddite tendencies, myself included, here is a link to the game played with traditional paper and pencil, Directions to an Exquisite Corpse.
Until next time,