Nicolas Poussin Biography

Nicolas Poussin was a famous French painter and draftsman and a leading painter of the classical French Baroque style. This biography of Poussin profiles his childhood, life, painting career, works, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: June 15, 1594

Nationality: French

Famous: Artists Baroque Painters

Died At Age: 71

Sun Sign: Gemini

Also Known As: Poussin, Nicolas

Born in: Near Les Andelys, Normandy, Kingdom of France (now France)

Famous as: French Painter


father: Jean Poussin

Died on: November 19, 1665

place of death: Rome

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Nicolas Poussin was a famous French painter and draftsman who became a central figure of the Roman and European art in the seventeenth century. He spent his working life in Rome, except for a brief period when he served as First Painter to the King in France. Poussin was a leading pioneer of the classical French Baroque style. His uniqueness lies in the fact that he brought an intellectual strain to the classical art. His specialization was history paintings. His compositions depicted scenes from the Bible, mythology and historical events. They are famous for their narrative precision and dramatic impulse. His initial works followed the Venetian tradition and they were colorful and sensualistic. There was a distinct influence of the poetry of Ovid and Tasso. His later compositions were indebted to the classicism of Raphael as they were subdued and more disciplined. His works reveal a ‘nobility of design’ in preference to color. The themes of his paintings range from bacchic celebrations to lamentation and moral civic virtues. In his last years, Poussin devoted himself to creating landscapes and deep allegorical paintings which focused on the harmony of nature. He inspired twentieth century neoclassical painters like Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Paul Cézanne.

Childhood & Early Life
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  • Marion had introduced Poussin to Marcello Sacchietti, a wealthy patron. In the mid 1620s, he also came in contact with Cardinal Francesco Barberini and his secretary Cassiano del Pozzo. All these individuals became patrons of Poussin.
  • In 1628, he created his early masterwork ‘The Death of Germanicus’ by utilizing Barberini’s commission.
  • Pozzo helped him in securing a commission for ‘The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus’ (1629), an altarpiece for St. Peter’s.
  • During the late 1620s and 1630s, he formulated his own style based on his studies of Titian’s ‘Bacchanals’ and the paintings of Domenichino and Guido Reni.
  • By 1632 Poussin was elected as a member of the Guild of St. Luke in Rome.
  • In 1635–36 he got a major commission from Cardinal Richelieu, first minister to Louis XIII for a series of bacchanals to decorate the cardinal’s estate.
  • In the late 1630s, he created the ‘Seven Sacraments’ for Philip IV, the king of Spain.
  • In 1638 he created one of his masterpieces, ‘The Israelites Gathering the Manna’ for Paul Fréart de Chantelou, his greatest patron.
  • In December 1640, upon his arrival to Paris, he was named First Painter to the King.
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  • In the later years of 1640, he produced some of his greatest figure paintings like ‘Eliezer and Rebecca’, ‘The Holy Family on the Steps’, and ‘The Judgment of Solomon’.
  • Poussin went back to Rome in 1642 and six years later, finished the second series of ‘The Seven Sacraments’.
  • In 1649 he painted the ‘Vision of St Paul’ for the comic poet Paul Scarron, and in 1651 the ‘Holy Family’ for the duc de Créquy.
  • In 1649–50 he also painted two self-portraits in which he was dressed like the ancients.
Major Works
  • ‘The Israelites Gathering the Manna’ (1638) is the most remarkable history painting of Poussin’s entire career and earned him the epithet of ‘painter-philosopher’. He intended the viewer to ‘read’ the painting because every brushstroke came together to create a drama.
  • ‘The Seven Sacraments’ is another marvellous painting which depicts the rituals of the early Christian church.
  • Other notable works include ‘The song of Solomon’ and ‘The Holy Family on the Steps’, which have a splendour and finality that make them some of the best pieces of classical art.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Nicolas Poussin married Anna Maria, the daughter of his compatriot Jacques Dughet in 1630.
  • The couple had no children. Poussin adopted is son-in-law Gaspard Dughet who later took the name of Poussin.
  • He suffered from ill health after 1650. His last paintings depict the artist’s preoccupation with death.
  • He was deeply affected by his wife’s death in 1665. He died on November 19, 1665 in Rome and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Luciana.

See the events in life of Nicolas Poussin in Chronological Order

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