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Nicolas Poussin, c1594-1665 : the late mythological landscapes : the last synthesis Watkins, Rosemary Ann

Abstract

Galileo's confirmation of Copernican cosmology was one of the major cultural problems of seventeenth-century Europe. Which was right? The reasoned experiments of science, or the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, which condemned such cosmology as contrary to Holy Writ? Nicolas Poussin, the classical French painter in Rome, offered his personal solution to this dilemma in his final paintings, mainly landscapes, usually mythological, but always allegorical. From antique, sixteenth-century and Campanellan thought, particularly Stoicism, he depicted the order and harmony of Creation by means of allegory. He concluded with Campanella that contemplation of the Copernican universe offered a means of spiritual growth. To Poussin, the Stoic Divine Reason behind Nature became the sign of eternal salvation offered by God to those who accepted union with Him. In particular, he felt that this union depended upon Man’s use of the Christian sacraments to obtain the grace needed to act in co-operation with God. This fusion of religious feeling with philosophical conviction caused an exquisite integration of form with complex allegorical content, in an intense unity characteristic of the age of the Baroque. The masterly classical freedom and precision of Poussin’s final manner adapted all pictorial elements in order to arouse delectation, or spiritual delight, in the person who perceived his pictures.

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