Baroque French Classicism and Poussin
 
Nicolas Poussin,  'Et in Arcadia Ego' 1637-39 
Oil on canvas, 185 x 121 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris
"I am here in Arcadia too"
French, Baroque (Learned to paint in Italy)


Stele of Hegeso
c.410-400 BC, Marble, 5'9"
Athens. Classic Greek

Form:  This painting incorporates intense or saturated colors and a full use of chiaroscuro, linear perspective and atmospheric perspective.  One of the things Poussin is noted for is his use of color and the creation of pastoral or arcadian idealized landscapes.

Although the portrayal of landscape is important in Poussin's work, the composition of this image recalls friezes from ancient Roman and Greek buildings such as those found  in such friezes as the Stele of Hegeso c.410-400 BC and on the Ara Pacis and the Parthenon.  As such, it is almost a neoclassical work of art.  Like its classical counterparts, the image is constructed so that most of the figures are placed in the foreground and even though there is the creation of deep space, the background is not as important as the figures.

Poussin's figures are also dressed and modeled after classical figures.  There anatomies are idealized and some of the distortions of the human faced evidenced in such friezes as the Stele of Hegeso c.410-400 BCE.

This painting is Baroque but not Rococo in style and in some ways, because it is so simple and classical, it is almost more Renaissance in form than Baroque.

Iconography:  Overtly this image refers to the classical tradition that artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were educated in and revered and this arcadian  scene is more or less a classical image of paradise.  The shepherds in this arcadian scene are leaning over and pointing at the inscription on a sarcophagus (stone coffin).   The inscription on the sarcophagus is also the title of the painting.  'Et in Arcadia Ego' is Latin for "even in Arcadia I am here.  Therefore the sarcophagus serves a similar purpose to the trompe l’oeil skeleton at the bottom of Masaccio's Trinity with Donors, it is a memento mori.

Context:  Poussin is known as one of the greatest French artists who ever lived yet he really did not work or study in France.  Born in France sometime in 1623 or 24 he made his way to Rome and met Giambattista Marino, the Italian court poet to Marie de Médicis and began his real education.  According to the Brittanica, "Marino commissioned Poussin to make a series of mythological drawings illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses."

At one point in his life (around 1640) he returned to Paris but he really wasn't as successful as he would have liked and he moved back to Italy where he was considered a slightly lower quality painter than his Italian contemporaries.  He then earned his living by taking private commissions and painting fairly smaller works.

Nevertheless, Italy and the Italian penchant for taking on classical themes appealed to Poussin and became a staple of his subject matter.


 
POUSSIN, Nicolas. Echo and Narcissus 1628-30
Oil on canvas, 74 x 100 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris
French Baroque
Form: This shares in many of the same qualities as the painting above.  This painting incorporates intense or saturated colors and a full use of chiaroscuro, linear perspective and atmospheric perspective and the pastoral or arcadian landscape.  The composition of this image recalls friezes from ancient Roman and Greek buildings and Poussin's figures are also dressed and modeled after classical figures. 

Iconography: The story that this painting portrays is "Echo and Narcissus" related by Roman poet Ovid in his collection Metamorphoses.  You can read this in Liaisons pages 53-57.

Context: This painting is probably the direct result of Giambattista Marino, the Italian court poet to Marie de Médicis commissioning of Poussin to make a series of mythological drawings illustrating Ovid's Metamorphoses.  Poussin's choice of the story is probably tied more to a Neoplatonic way of thinking about classicism.  The image is a warning rather than an endorsement about romantic love and this is where Poussin differed from his French counterparts interpretation of classical themes.


 

Nicolas Poussin, Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan 1631-33
Oil on canvas, 100 x 142,5 cm. National Gallery, London.
French Baroque
Form: This shares in many of the same qualities as the paintings above.  This painting incorporates intense or saturated colors and a full use of chiaroscuro, linear perspective and atmospheric perspective and the pastoral or arcadian landscape.  The composition of this image recalls friezes from ancient Roman and Greek buildings and Poussin's figures are also dressed and modeled after classical figures. 

Iconography: This is the kind of image that Poussin might have seen in Italy either on a classical frieze or a pot.  Even though the image is "classical" it seems to me to be an almost sarcastic or moralizing way in which to depict it.  This painting seems almost to be a warning against hedonism

The theme this story that this painting portrays is a bacchanal

According to Webster's, 

bac.cha.na.lia n, pl bacchanalia [L, fr. Bacchus] (1591) 1 pl, cap: a Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry 2: orgy 2, 3 -- bac.cha.na.lian adj or n 


This directly relates to the poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats in Liaisons pg. 233 and the Greek Tragedy Read the Greek Tragedy The Bacchae by Euripedes in Liaisons pp 58-87. Additional information about this play can be found at 

Read the poems below and see if you can relate it to the paintings above.

Lekythos with 
"Mistress and Maid" 
theme- c. 440 BC, Athens.
white-ground and 
black-figure decoration 
with touches of tempera,
15" tall 
Museum of Fine Art Boston
Classic, Greece


Muse of Mt. 
Lekythos Vase, 
5th century BCE, 10.5"

Ode on a Grecian Urn
John Keats. 1795-1821

THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearièd,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea-shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Christopher Marlowe c 1600

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feeds their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kittle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold'

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
 

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with the and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, the shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, the kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten--
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.


ar.ca.di.an adj, often cap (1589) 1: idyllically pastoral; esp: idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled 2 a: of or relating to Arcadia or the Arcadians b: of or relating to Arcadian Ar.ca.di.an n (1590) 1 often not cap: a person who lives a simple quiet life 2: a native or inhabitant of Arcadia 3: the dialect of ancient Greek used in Arcadia

According to the Brittanica,

Modern Greek ARKADHÍA, mountainous region of the central Peloponnesus of ancient Greece. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. The region is not exactly coextensive with the present-day nomós (department) of Arkadhía, which extends on the east to the Gulf of Argolis. The capital of the nomos is Trípolis.

he.do.nism n [Gk hedone pleasure; akin to Gk hedys sweet--more at sweet] (1856) 1: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life 2: a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism -- he.do.nist n -- he.do.nis.tic adj -- he.do.nis.ti.cal.ly adv

neo.clas.sic or neo.clas.si.cal adj (1877): of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical esp. in literature, music, art, or architecture -- neo.clas.si.cism n -- neo.clas.si.cist n or adj

pas.to.ral adj [ME, fr. L pastoralis, fr. pastor herdsman] (15c) 1 a (1): of, relating to, or composed of shepherds or herdsmen (2): devoted to or based on livestock raising b: of or relating to the countryside: not urban c: portraying or expressive of the life of shepherds or country people esp. in an idealized and conventionalized manner <~ poetry> d: pleasingly peaceful and innocent: idyllic 2 a: of or relating to spiritual care or guidance esp. of a congregation b: of or relating to the pastor of a church -- pas.to.ral.ly adv -- pas.to.ral.ness n ²pastoral n (1584) 1 a: a literary work (as a poem or play) dealing with shepherds or rural life in a usu. artificial manner and typically drawing a contrast between the innocence and serenity of the simple life and the misery and corruption of city and esp. court life b: pastoral poetry or drama c: a rural picture or scene d: pastorale 1b 2: crosier 1 3: a letter of a pastor to his charge: as a: a letter addressed by a bishop to his diocese b: a letter of the house of bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church to be read in each parish

trompe l’oeil - (French: "deceive the eye"), in painting, the representation of an object with such verisimilitude as to deceive the viewer concerning the material reality of the object. This idea appealed to the ancient Greeks who were newly emancipated from the conventional stylizations of earlier art. Zeuxis, for example, reportedly painted such realistic grapes that birds tried to eat them. The technique was also popular with Roman muralists. Although trompe l’oeil never achieved the status of a major artistic aim, from the early Renaissance on, European painters occasionally fostered illusionism by painting false frames out of which the contents of a still life or portrait appeared to spill, or by creating window-like images suggesting actual openings in the wall or ceiling. (Brittanica)