Room 19

Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin was the most important French painter of the 17th century. His style was shaped primarily by the antique and Renaissance art he saw in Rome, where he settled in 1624.

Poussin first looked to paintings by Titian, then in Roman collections. He adapted Titian’s loose brushwork and harmonious colouring, often arranging his figures in a triangular composition. From about 1630, Poussin took greater inspiration from antique sculpture and paintings by Raphael. In The Adoration of the Golden Calf of 1633–4, his use of colour is more strident and the figures, arranged frieze-like across the surface of the picture, more expressive and sculptural.

Poussin’s independent attitude, then rare for artists, and the discipline of his paintings, made him a model both for his contemporaries and for later painters. These qualities are evident in the series shown here depicting the sacraments, whose subject was unprecendented in painting of the period.