“I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time.”
This depiction of a mythical celebration shows nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields. Pan’s identity in this work may have been combined with that of Priapus, a deity of gardens. Both are associated with fertility and Bacchic ritual. The painting contains a number of literary and visual references; the instruments being played, the sacrificial deer and the props in the foreground are all either attributes of Pan and Priapus, or are linked with such rites. These include panpipes, theatrical masks (comedy, tragedy and satire), and a shepherd’s staff.
This painting is a milestone in Nicolas Poussin‘s career, and shows him with characteristic rigour reforming his style by turning to the examples of classical antiquity and the early Renaissance. For his contemporaries it must have seemed like a reversion to primitivism, but it nevertheless established the basis of the style which was to serve him for the rest of his career.
This picture was commissioned by Cardinal de Richelieu and dispatched from Rome to Paris in May 1636. With its companion, The Triumph of Bacchus (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), it was designed to form part of the decoration of the Cabinet du Roi in the Château de Richelieu. There are a number of preparatory drawings by Poussin for this painting, including some in the collection of H.M. The Queen at Windsor Castle.
In 2011, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London) organised a revelatory exhibition of the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly. This major show explored, for the first time, the unexpected yet numerous parallels and affinities between the two artists.
In 1624 and 1957, The two artists, aged around thirty, moved to Rome (in 1624 and 1957 respectively). Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly spent the majority of their lives in the Eternal City, and went on to become the pre-eminent painters of their day. Rather than recent exhibitions that have sought to compare and contrast old masters with contemporary artists through superficial visual appearances, this groundbreaking show instead juxtaposed works which may seem radically disparate in terms of style, yet ones that share deep and timeless interests. Both Poussin and Twombly were artists of prodigious talent who found in the classical heritage of Rome a life-long subject. Both spent their lives studying, revivifying and making newly relevant for their own eras antiquity, ancient history, classical mythology, Renaissance painting, poetry and the imaginary, idealized realm of Arcadia.
Curated by Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern, the exhibition examined how Twombly and Poussin, although separated by three centuries, nonetheless engaged with the same sources and explored the overlapping subjects that the two artists have shared.