Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake

The subject does not appear to have a literary source. The setting may derive from a notorious snake-infested area near Fondi, south-east of Rome.

Poussin creates a sort of study of fear fanning out from the corpse in the foreground. The landscape has been carefully constructed to lead the viewer through the stages of this drama with figures placed on alternately light and dark receding strips of ground. The figures' theatrical poses communicate a sense of movement and drama through being set on a diagonal.

The drama also resides in who can see whom within the picture. The running man sees the dead man and the snake; the woman sees only the running man; the fishermen do not even see her.

The picture was probably painted in 1648 for Pointel, a Parisian merchant, who owned a number of Poussin's works.

Poussin takes elements of classical landscapes from Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. Trees are used to frame the action. Diagonal lines create spatial recession in the centre, back to the horizon.

Key facts

Artist dates
1594 - 1665
Full title
Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake
Date made
probably 1648
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
118.2 x 197.8 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1947
Inventory number
Location in Gallery