Nicolas Poussin: Poetic Truth and Antiquarian Patronage in Baroque Rome

Very few artists have been so creatively independent, self-governing and original in their artistic endeavours as the French painter, Nicolas Poussin. Michelangelo and Van Gogh might come to mind as two other unique exceptions. An artist whose subject and patronage, were both strongly interconnected with the antiquarian world of baroque Rome. Discover a painter, who in his depiction of both classical myth, history and biblical narrative, profoundly expressed the cyclical nature of existence and humanity’s place within it.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • Life of Nicolas Poussin of Les Andelys, Frenchman in Gian Pietro Bellori, The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors and Architects, trans. Alice Sedgwick Wohl, Hellmut Wohl and Tomaso Montanari (Cambridge University Press: 2005).
  • André Félibien, Félibien's Life of Poussin, trans. Clare Pace (Zwemmer: 1987).
  • Ovid, Metamorphosis (Penguin Classics: 2004) trans. David Raeburn.
  • Plutarch’s Lives, Vol. 1 and 2, trans. Arthur Hugh Clough ( 2018).
  • Christopher Allen, French Painting in the Golden Age (Thames and Hudson: 2003). Especially the introduction and chapter two “Rome: History and Landscape”.
  • Lisa Beaven, An Ardent Patron: Cardinal Camillo Massimo and His Antiquarian and Artistic Circle (Paul Holberton Publishing: 2010).
  • Anthony Blunt, Poussin (Pallas Athene: 1995).
  • Keith Christiansen and Pierre Rosenberg, Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions (Yale University Press: 2008).
  • Martin Clayton, Poussin: Works on Paper (Merrell Holberton: 1995).
  • Elizabeth Cropper and Charles Dempsey, Nicolas Poussin and the Love of Painting (Princeton University Press: 1996).
  • Tony Green, Nicolas Poussin Paints the Seven Sacraments Twice (Gardeners Books: 2000).
  • Denis Mahon, Nicolas Poussin: Works from his First Years in Rome (The Israel Museum: 1999).
  • Christopher Wright, Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné (Chaucer Press: 2007).


  • Poussin the early years – from Paris to Rome, the Death of Germanicus and the Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus: Discover the challenges of Poussin’s early years. Born in Les Andelys in Normandy. Poussin moved to Paris to establish an artistic career. Success came after much struggle. It took the artist three attempts to finally reach Rome - the cultural capital of Europe and the classical Roman past - at the age of thirty. His early years in Rome were also hampered by difficulties in securing consistent patronage.
  • Poussin in the 1620s: Titian, colour, sensuality and contemplation in the Virgilian pastoral landscape: We will examine Poussin’s lyrical early pastoral subjects. The artist’s unique employment of colour in these early works recall the Venetian painters, Titian and Giorgione, and their often-broad handling of paint. We will also look at the type of patrons in Rome who were interested in such works.
  • Poussin and the success of the 1630s: In this decade, Poussin painted important works such as The Plague of Ashdod, The Saving of Young Pyrrhus, the three Bacchanals for Cardinal Richelieu and the first series of The Seven Sacraments for his most significant patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo. By the end of the decade, Poussin would return triumphantly to France under the services of King Louis XIII; being named First Painter to the King on his arrival.
  • Poussin’s mature style of painting: the “statuesque manner”, the affetti and classical rhetoric: In 1640, while still in Paris, Poussin produced a work that ushered in his late “austere” style, The Institution of the Eucharist. An analysis of the artist’s late work will also give opportunity to look more deeply into Poussin’s working method. A knowledge of classical literary sources will also add another very significant level of understanding to the artist’s works.
  • The legacy of Poussin in the latter half of the seventeenth century: Poussin’s work became a model for the newly formed French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1648). Yet in 1671, a quarrel broke out between those painters who saw Poussin as the exemplary model for artists and those who championed the Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens. We will see how Poussin became an ideal embodiment for how the visual arts had been perceived and developed since the Renaissance. Rubens oeuvre, on the other hand, was reappropriated to define a new, and what would become a modern perspective on the arts, with its culturally narrower, sensory and formal scope.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain a greater appreciation and knowledge of the classical myths, histories and biblical narratives, vividly brought to life in the paintings of Poussin.
  2. Perceive of Poussin as one of the most significant artists in what might be termed, a “long Renaissance”.
  3. See Poussin within the broader context of seventeenth century Roman / French patronage and antiquarian circles.
  4. Question some of the uncritically repeated assumptions about the artist, that he was a cerebral individual with little appreciation for how the visual arts delight our senses or the view that a painter who produced over two hundred extraordinarily complex pictures, was a slow and singularly solitary worker, who made “small” cabinet sized paintings.
$39 Limited

<p>Very few artists have been so creatively independent, self-governing and original in their artistic endeavours as the French painter, Nicolas Poussin. Michelangelo and Van Gogh might come to mind

10 Jun

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