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Poussin, Nicolas (1594–1665)

  1. George Thomas Kurian

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1128

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Kurian, G. T. 2011. Poussin, Nicolas (1594–1665). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


The greatest French classical painter, who worked in Rome from 1624. His religious paintings begin in 1628 with The Rest on the Flight into Egypt in which the Holy Family is on a boat and the Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (1628). In the 1630s he did his Massacre of the Innocents (1631) and Worship of the Golden Calf. It was not until the 1650s that he began his Madonna and Child series with Madonna on the Steps (1648) and the Madonna with the Basin (1650). There are two versions of his Annunciation. Cassiano da Pazzo, a patron, commissioned the Agony in the Garden painted on copper (1626). Growing prestige led to other commissions for church altarpieces: The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (1628), commissioned for St. Peter's, and The Virgin Appearing to St. James for a church in the Spanish Netherlands. From the 1650 his works reflect a more human quality, especially the series of Seven Sacraments beginning with the Baptism. He did a second series of Seven Sacraments but they lack the audacity and narrative integrity of the earlier series. The devotional requirements of the Catholic Church interested him less but he brought to his Christian themes a historical imagination that reflected his love of antiquity. Although never grandiose in conception, Poussin's figures sometimes achieve a marmoreal detachment and a silvery, otherworldly quality.


  • poussin, nicolas (1594–1665);
  • greatest french classical painter;
  • religious paintings, the rest on the flight into Egypt;
  • seven sacraments, beginning with the baptism