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Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake

Key facts
Full title Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake
Artist Nicolas Poussin
Artist dates 1594 - 1665
Date made probably 1648
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 118.2 × 197.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1947
Inventory number NG5763
Location Room 31
Collection Main Collection
Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake
Nicolas Poussin

A man has been crushed by a snake and lies dead beside a pond: his body is limp and his skin a greenish-grey. We see a man and woman whose gestures and movement show their fear and surprise. The way the landscape is constructed reveals the drama in stages: the running man sees the dead man and the snake, the woman sees only the fleeing man and a fishermen in the distance see only her. Trees are used to frame the action and the zigzag placement of the people in the landscape and the alternating areas of light and shade lead our eye deeper into the distance.

This scene is probably inspired by the notorious snake-infested area of Fondi, south-east of Rome, which Poussin and the painting’s owner, Jean Pointel, may have visited. The subject may be based on an actual event that Poussin heard about or witnessed.

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