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Poussin’s Erotica

Many scholars have been embarrassed by the prominence of eroticism in Poussin’s early work. Yet, as Timothy Standring argues, it is a theme that provides clues about how the artist established his career.

Timothy Standring, Wednesday, 25th February 2009

By the time Poussin had received a commission to paint six major religious paintings for the Jesuits in Paris in 1622, he was already original, self-assured and fiercely determined. Leaving his home in Les Andelys by 1613, his hard-scrabble career consisted of selling his paintings to any clients he could find, cosseting members of courtly society and seeking opportunities throughout France and as far afield as Florence before returning to Paris.1

Since his life experiences were both formative and formidable, it may have been his fierce independence, in addition to the singularity of his art, that caught the attention of the Neapolitan poet Giovanni Battista Marino, who had settled in Paris in 1615 at the invitation of the Regent, Marie de’ Medici. As Marino subsequently invited the artist to take up residence with him, what ensued was not just financial support, but an intimate friendship that provided Poussin with an intellectual foundation that could only come from such a relationship.

Marino, who was recovering from an illness, apparently passed his time watching Poussin produce drawings after themes from his poetry, such as the Adone, and would have probably approved of the artist’s incisive takes on the narrative components. After all, Marino’s grasp of contemporary aesthetics and of the merits of such artists as Raphael and Giulio Romano provided an authority that the young artist needed at this stage of his career. Marino would have reinforced Poussin’s tendencies to formulate a poetic concetto for his works and would have suggested how to express the various emotions, or affetti, in part by making judicious use of the ancient past’s literary and visual traditions. The poet thus demonstrated that originality in part resided in imitation from sources of excellence, and that both the artist/poet and the beholder understood that a work’s success rested on the latter’s knowledge of the appropriated visual and literary sources.


Patrizia Cavazzini

April 1st, 2009 7:45pm

Fascinating, but it should be added that Agostino Tassi owned "un quadro di 4 palmi con un paese e donna ignuda et satiri" and that he drew the matching subject of a satyr masturbating. See the exh. cat. and B. Magazine july 2002

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