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.

Nicolas Poussin

Tancred and Erminia

c. 1634

oil on canvas

 The Barber institute of Fine Arts 

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.

Venus Weeping over Adonis


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.



Alte Pinakothek

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.

The Apparition of St. Francesco Romana



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.

The Plague of Ashdod


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


Norton Simon

The following details offer examples of manliness untarnished by the Schoolmasters sins, their flesh robust and sound.

Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii

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,

take care,

Babylon Baroque


4 Responses to “Poussin and the Exquisite Corpse”

  1. Sleek new site design Leonard. Very handsome. WordPress are ‘the biz’!

  2. babylonbaroque Says:

    Yes, it is new, but i am afraid I was a bit mortified when i suspected it may be the same theme as your own admirable blog. WP does make it all terribly easy. I need to add a custom header, change font etc. Started autumn classes, a bit overwhelmed, will tend to such details when the dust settles.
    I must say once again, how pleased i am to be in regular contact with you, I admire you greatly.

  3. It is the same as the Artlog, though it should be said that the best of the WordPress site designs take on the character of the bloggers who use them. When a design is as deceptively simple as this one, it’s also immensely versatile. Once you’ve a customised header up you’ll be ‘chocs away’ with the new design! i hope you don’t mind me saying that’s it’s a big improvement on what you had before. Sites need refreshing from time to time. I overhauled mine just a few weeks ago. Luckily the WordPress package makes that option easy. Choose your font and size carefully. Too fancy a font and the elegance is undermined. Too large and the page can look like a text for the visually impaired, too small and oldies like me have to reach for the spectacles. It’s a delicate balance.


  4. babylonbaroque Says:

    I appreciate the advice, I tend towards large fonts, as I can barely make sense of it all , I have become quite blind. If you know of a font you think particularly handsome I will consider it, my strength is not design.
    I have been in a funk, the blogs format lifted it a bit, i will go about enhancing it of course. I am up to my neck in papers, and I have only just begun, but I will return shortly.
    Happy to hear from you,

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