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Compare Poussins 2 versions of the


Eucharist in his series of the Seven
Sacraments in terms of the differing
identities of their patrons.
Before analysing Poussins two versions of the Eucharist we have to understand at what stage in his
artistic career he was in, and the context of sacramental paintings in the 17
th
century. We need to
understand Poussins passion in antiquity and views on religion within his stoic philosophical
mindset. Thus we can begin to examine his relationship with his two patrons, Cassiano dal Pozzo and
Paul Frart de Chantelou and discuss how the two versions of the Sacrament of the Eucharist reflect
the differing identities of their commissioners one the intellectual Italian, interested in a fusion of
antique and Christian themes, the other the wealthy French bourgeois, less pious and more private.
The idea of a series of paintings was common enough in the 17
th
century, but the sacraments
themselves had up until then always been painted together as scenes of contemporary life.
1
During
the 16
th
century Reformation the church was made defend the validity of its Sacraments,
deemphasising the significance of the Last Supper in the sacrament of Eucharist, and focusing
instead on the consecration of the bread of giving communion to the Apostles, as seen in Poussins
Eucharist (1640; Musee du Louvre, Paris). Thus, Poussins idea of a series of seven separate paintings
of the Sacraments was part of his virtue of inventio, the ability to express a story in an imaginative
and original way.
2
In both sets he has gone against the norm and chosen to depict the Eucharist in its
narrative and historical context, concentrating not on saints and martyrs, but on the central
narrative themes of the New Testament
3
. Thus, we see the apostles lying at the table all antica.
4

The focus is more on the dramatic sacramental climax of the last supper, with his gestures declaring
the bread and wine becoming his flesh and blood.
5

Poussins passion in antiquity is revealed in differing ways for each of his Eucharists. By using primary
evidence through the inclusion of classical architectural features, such as the formal Roman dining
Triclinium, as well as clothing in a Roman style, Poussin quotes antique images.
6
However, he also
deals with the underlying philosophical conceptions of the Biblical narrative, emphasising the
moments when Christ blesses the cup, when the disciples break the bread, when Judas leaves the

1
Thompson, C. (1980) Poussins Seven Sacraments in Edinburgh. University of Glasgow Press: p. 7
2
Ibid, p. 7

3
Blunt, A. (1995) Nicolas Poussin. Pallas Athene Publishing: p. 179
4
Friedlaender, W. (1966) Poussin: a New Approach. Thames and Hudson: p. 156
5
Ibid, p. 7

6
Blunt, A. (1995): p. 189

2

room ashamed of his future betrayal, and in Chantelous version references to Christs washing of
the apostles feet, all convey the personal systems the artist was dealing with through his patrons.
7

Poussins paintings were also inspired largely by the stoical philosophers, such as Torquato Tasso,
whose ideas of the mind creating fantastic new ideas based upon intellect, memory, and experience
8

heavily inspired Poussins passionate belief in reason as the source of all beauty and truth.
9
This
admiration for intellectual rigour and enquiry led to Poussin founding the classical tradition in French
Art.
10
However, despite Poussins moral stoicism, the solemnity and grandeur of his religious
paintings for Chantelou and dal Pozzo show his sincerity of his religious beliefs.
11

Thus, we can examine Cassiano dal Pozzos Eucharist, of the set of Seven Sacraments painted
between 1636-1642 in terms of its religious Christian narrative themes through his relationship with
the religious circles based around Cardinal Francesco Barberini, and its antiquarian themes through
the his interest in the antiques and the work of the Carracci school. Dal Pozzos patronage of Poussin
at the time he commissioned the Seven Sacraments has already existed for over a decade since
Poussins arrival in Rome in 1624.
12
The severe and stoic manner of Poussin in his maturity suited
him to the intellectual circle of dal Pozzo
13
, whose scientific and philosophical interests were finely
tuned to the intellectual, ethical, and political debates of seicento Rome
14
and based on the
teachings of the Carracci schools reforming of the Mannerist style, setting up the following Baroque
period.
15
Cropper argues that Poussin was working with dal Pozzo in the central intellectual problem
of the 17
th
c reconciling the authority of the Christian church and the traditions of the classical
period, with new discoveries and creative ideas in the sciences, theology, and the arts.
16


7
Carrier, D. (1993) Poussins Paintings: a study in art-historical methodology. Pennsylvania State
University Press: p. 61
8
Callen-Bell, J. (2002) Art history in the age of Bellori: scholarship and cultural politics in seventeenth-
century Rome. Cambridge University Press: p. 42
9
Blunt, A. (1995): p. 219

10
Clarke, M. (2011) Poussin to Seurat: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland.
National Galleries of Scotland: p. 108

11
Blunt, A. (1995): p. 177

12
Wright, C. (1984) Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonn. Alpine Fine Arts: p. 68
13
Kauffman, G., Friedlaender, W., and Sauerlnder (eds.) (1965) Walter Friedlaender zum 90.
Geburtstag: eine Festgabe seiner europischen Schler, Freunde und Verehrer. De Gruyter: p. 59
14
Olson, T.P. (2002) Poussin and France: Painting, Humanism, and the Politics of Style. Yale
University Press: p. 15
15
Callen-Bell (2002): p. 43
16
Ibid, p. 43
3

To show the Eucharist in its historic origin provided a vehicle for the representation of the ancient
world, an enthusiasm that Poussin shared with dal Pozzo.
17
Dal Pozzos master, Cardinal Francesco
Barberini, was the titular abbot of the Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, a place of great
interest in the classical world with its terrifically important library of Greek Manuscripts and alumni
of Humanists, such as Ambrogio Traversari.
18
This was combined with dal Pozzos own personal
interest and knowledge of classical mythology and history, with his collections of classical antiques.
19

We can see aspects of the picture are treated as a stage, with what appears to the viewer to be the
removal of the fourth wall as the sparse floor at the bottom edge of the painting seems like a
theatre set.
20
We can see the influences of the Carracci school in Poussins use of chiaroscuro,
symmetry and use of colour and line, which seem to be an amalgamation of Raphael, Correggio, and
Michelangelo, which can be partly attributed to his use of wax models arranged on a theatrical stage
in order to see the natural effects of light and shade, revealing how these affect the activity of the
narrative.
21

We can see the evidence of the emphasis Poussin put in dal Pozzos Eucharist on the emotions of the
Christian narrative of the work, which fitted into the religious temper of his circle around Cardinal
Barberini. The sacraments were an essential part of the writings of the early Christian apologists
trying to remove themselves from the ecstatic Catholicism expressed in Roman Baroque art
22
, with
whom Cardinal Barberini was in sympathy.
23
The interior height imposes a sense of the ritual and
solemnity of the Church.
24
The pictures exhibition, intended to hang together either in a long
sequence in a narrow hallway or confined in a relatively small room
25
, would have added to this
cloistering effect.
We can likewise examine Poussins second set of sacraments for the Parisian Paul Frart de
Chantelou, painted in Rome between 1644-48, in terms of Poussins personal friendship and the
wider context of the 17
th
rise of French Humanitarianism. Hearing so much about dal Pozzos series
of Sacraments, Chantelou wanted copies of them, and after initially meeting with some difficulties
and delays Poussin agreed to paint him a completely new version.
26
Chantelou and the rest of
Poussins French supporters belonged to the bourgeois, a wealthy class with clearly defined ideals
(Carrier, 1993, 81).
27

Although clearly not as intellectual as dal Pozzo, Poussin still held deep affection for Chantelou, and
in their long series of letters the two companions wrote often about the progress of the Sacraments.
These were shipped across the Alps one by one as they were finished to Chantelous collection in his
house near the Louvre in Paris, where a separate room was set aside for them.
28
Chantelou is

17
Thompson (1980): p. 7
18
Kauffman, et al (1965): p. 61
19
Blunt, A. (1995): p. 207
20
Thompson (1980): p. 12
21
Callen-Bell (2002): p. 220
22
Blunt, A. (1995): p. 187
23
Heering, J.P. (2004) Hugo Grotius as Apologist for the Christian Religion. Brill: p. 201
24
Thompson (1980): p. 24
25
Wright (1984): p. 68
26
Thompson (1980): p. 6
27
Carrier (1993): p. 81
28
Thompson (1980): p. 4
4

recorded to have covered the Sacraments with curtains, leaving only one visible at a time, under a
mutual understanding with Poussin who agreed that seeing them all together would fill the mind
too much all at once.
29
Thus, the whole concept of the paintings implied a certain kind of answering
space in which it is hung, the confined and exclusive cabinet d'amateur, and a certain kind of person
looking at it, the privileged guests of Chantelou, men of culture and learning it was in this nature
that Poussin used his expressions, conveyed his ideas, and diminished the size of his figures.
30
This
environment required a formula that would not distract people from the tranquillity of the setting.
Poussin sought to create a distance between the figures of the Eucharist and the people who looked
at them. Any face presented with too much realism would have been far too distracting, whereas
enhancing the physical signs of emotional response was his goal.
31
Thus, Poussin took inspiration
from theatre and the classical world, painting the figures faces as actors wearing antique masks with
an emphasis of painting the rim of the lower eyelid a distinct reddish colour to represent the edge of
the mask.
32
Further changes from the first series increase the solemnity of the experience: the
architectural height of the Triclinium is much reduced in proportion to the figures, increasing the
sense of gravity on observance
33
, enhanced by the deeper shadows and changing light makes the
figures move closer into the light, enabling Poussin to give far more individual expression to each
participant in the scene.
34
It was only by transforming his picture in this way that he prevented
Chantelous version of the Eucharist from being perceived by his friend as merely a quotation of dal
Pozzos.
This second series has a solidly French temperament, an excess of Humanist logic, and almost
doctrinaire consistency, sacrificing a sense of informality and lightness of touch which had been
present in the first.
35
His piety was certainly less intense than dal Pozzos, as during Berninis visit to
Paris Chantelou rarely accompanied him to the churches, and made unfriendly comments about the
ostentatious wealth of the Church
36
, thus sharing the views of the humanist libertins on the religious
orders. Poussins French audience were, unlike the intellectual debates of seicento Rome, more
engaged in the formation of the early modern state.
37
This may be precisely why Chantelou chose
Poussin to paint his series. By working from Rome after his failed return to Paris in 1640-2, the
expatriate artist was free from these constraints of state ambitions and respond to the personal
demands of his friend.
38
However, in this process of state formation in the 17
th
century High
Renaissance in France, the importance of mankind in general was stressed, not the emphasis of
distinct personalities of separate individuals.
39
This is seen in the Eucharist, where Poussin explores
the unity of the narrative scene, whilst pursuing his personal intention of exploring the idea of
individual temperaments and responses of the apostles.

29
Ibid, p. 4
30
Ibid, p. 15
31
Ibid, p. 24
32
Ibid, p. 19
33
Ibid, p. 25
34
Carrier (1993): p. 219
35
Thompson (1980): p. 25
36
Blunt (1995): p. 216
37
Olson (2002): p. 15
38
Ibid, p. 72
39
Thompson (1980): p. 8
5

From studying the above, one can see how Poussin treated each of his versions of the Sacrament of
the Eucharist differently to suit the tastes of the differing identities of his clients. For dal Pozzo,
within his religious and intellectual circles, Poussins restrained touch and papal solemnity is seen,
whereas for Chantelou Poussin felt free outside of the rigours of Humanist France to paint a
heartfelt and tranquil piece, suiting the function of Chantelous collection room all the more.

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Bibliography
Blunt, A. (1995) Nicolas Poussin. Pallas Athene Publishing
Callen-Bell, J. (2002) Art history in the age of Bellori: scholarship and cultural politics in seventeenth-
century Rome. Cambridge University Press
Carrier, D. (1993) Poussins Paintings: a study in art-historical methodology. Pennsylvania State
University Press
Clarke, M. (2011) Poussin to Seurat: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland. National
Galleries of Scotland
Clarke, M. (2000) A Companion Guide to the National Gallery of Scotland. National Galleries of
Scotland
Friedlaender, W. (1966) Poussin: a New Approach. London, Thames and Hudson
Heering, J.P. (2004) Hugo Grotius as Apologist for the Christian Religion. Brill
Kauffman, G., Friedlaender, W., and Sauerlnder (eds.) (1965) Walter Friedlaender zum 90.
Geburtstag: eine Festgabe seiner europischen Schler, Freunde und Verehrer. Berlin, De
Gruyter.
Olson, T.P. (2002) Poussin and France: Painting, Humanism, and the Politics of Style. Yale University
Press
Thompson, C. (1980) Poussins Seven Sacraments in Edinburgh. University of Glasgow Press.
Wohl, A.S. (2009) Giovan Pietro Bellori: The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors and Architects.
Cambridge University Press
Wright, C. (1984) Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonn. Alpine Fine Arts, New York