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Nicolas Poussin: Friendship and the Love of Painting.

The desideratum of the authors of this new addition to the vast literature on Nicolas Poussin was nothing less than a total reassessment of the artist and his paintings placed within the broader consideration of his abstract thematic concepts of both style and subject in the intellectual climate of early to mid-seventeenth century Rome. That this goal was successful is due to the depth and amplitude of the meticulous research carried out by Elizabeth Cropper and Charles Dempsey. The reader will be enlightened as to the direct and indirect influences exerted on the painter, but also drawn into the aesthetic fabric of Poussin's social and philosophical milieu.

In the course of an informative introduction in which Cropper and Dempsey discuss the earlier significant work that had been done on Poussin, they state that "one of the chief aims of the present volume is to explore how what we know of Poussin's social and intellectual life might be brought to bear directly on the explication, understanding and appreciation of his paintings and the concerns that went into its production and final appearance." To these aims, they have associated each of the four pairs of two chapters with an important person in Poussin's life. Thus, we read first of Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, owner of an important collection of antiquities whose project - announced in 1631 - to reproduce this collection through the publication of the Galleria Giustiniana resulted in one of the very first illustrated records of a collection. The lasting effect that this important patron of Poussin and the extraordinarily fine production of the Galleria brought to bear on the artist is skillfully explored in detail by Cropper and Dempsey.

The influence of the second major figure on Poussin is Cassiano dal Pozzo, a Sienese of noble birth and fortune who arrived in Rome in 1612. Poussin first met him in 1624, at which time Cassiano had been appointed secretary to the new Cardinal Francesco Barberini. This was a friendship of long standing which was to involve Poussin in one of the most ambitious and coherently organized centers of learned patrons of the arts ever to gain access to the power and wealth of the papacy. Poussin was also exposed to the Museo Cartaceo or "Paper Museum" of Cassiano, in which the new observational and taxonomic principles developed in the study of natural history were turned to the study of human history. It was at this time that the use of light and color was intensely explored by Poussin as he investigated the theories illustrated in the Trattato della Pittura by Leonardo da Vinci. It was Cassiano dal Pozzo who turned to Poussin for the illustrations of the editio princeps of this "Treatise on Painting" published in Pads by Raphael Trichet Du Fresne in 1651.

In part three, the Essais of Montaigne dominate the two chapters concerning Poussin's Self-Portrait for Paul Freart de Chantelou and the art of portraiture itself. It was the essay "De l'amitie" by Montaigne, in particular, which best seemed to mirror the painter's own paragone of painting and friendship. However, it should be noted that Marc Fumaroli of the College de France in his book entitled L'Ecole du silence: le sentiment des images au XVIIe siecle (Paris: 1994, 145), argues that the Latin inscription on the Self-Portrait painting moves it out of time and empirical reality, and thus projects it beyond death, while celebrating the act of painting.

In part four, the authors discuss the poets who had wielded such influence over Poussin, especially Giovanni Battista Marino. Cropper and Dempsey, in the final chapter, investigate the broader thematics of Poussin's landscape paintings within the subject of Death in Arcadia. His debt to Philostratus, Ovid and Virgil, among others, is validly documented by the authors.

The notable merit of this book lies in the scope of the authors' analytical approach to many illuminating parallels between the arts at this time, and offers to readers much new comment. Elizabeth Cropper and Charles Dempsey have presented us with a fully realized "portrait" of Nicolas Poussin in which the true character of his paintings emerges as clearly as in his Self-Portrait painted for Chantelou signifying "Friendship and the Love of Painting."

JOANNE SNOW-SMITH University of Washington, Seattle
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Author:Snow-Smith, Joanne
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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