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November 20, 2019

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Poussin Arcadia.jpg

Et in Arcadia ego
Nicolas Poussin

Nicholas Poussin was one of the most influential painters of the Baroque era. While other Baroque artists were composing art with dramatic forms and lighting, vivid, radiant color, and huge action, Poussin’s art is quiet scenes of heavy classicism. “Poussinisme” would come to describe art that emphasizes form over color, with clean lines and defined pictorial regions, and compositions that appealed to the mind rather than the heart or emotions. His style would define French tastes for almost a century, until the rise of Rococo.

This work is a pastoral, artworks in idyllic landscapes that a viewer is supposed to just enjoy. The subjects are usually shepherds who while away their days playing their pan flutes or lutes, or just relax, while their animals graze in lush, green fields. Arcadia was an area in ancient Greece where Pan, the god of herds, lived, so an “Arcadia” in art is a pastoral located in ancient Greece.

In “Et in Arcadia Ego”, we see three male shepherds and one female figure. The males crowd around a large stone object that just sits on a rise in the middle of this landscape. It is engraved with the work’s title, which translates to: “I am also in Arcadia.” They think about this when a woman appears. She is not with the men because her clothes and body language are different, and the men seem to defer to her. Usually artists will use attributes to identify their figures so audiences don’t have to guess. Poussin has left her identification ambiguous. Many scholars I’ve read believe she is a goddess.

The woman is tall and statuesque. One hand is on her hip while she gently rest the other on the back of the red shepherd. No emotion shows on her face. If she is a goddess then Poussin is adhering to the Classical trait of aloofness in the gods. She seems to listen patiently to their questions about the object and its meaning.

The color palette is subdued here except in the cloaks of the three central figures. This immediately draws our attention to them. Each figure wears one of the primary colors for further emphasis. Of these three, I think the two on the right, dressed in red and yellow, are the most important. The two most vivid colors right next to each other radiate in the neutral browns and tans surrounding them. These figures are opposites: male and female, body and spirit, confusion and confidence, bent over and standing straight, ignorance and knowledge, emotion and rationality. I think Poussin might be acknowledging the two sides of human existence, but is placing importance on rationality and knowledge and saying that they are found in the Divine.

The goddess is almost mirrored by the young man in tan on the very left. Unlike his friends, he doesn’t examine the inscription closely. Instead it seems as though he realizes its implication, accepts its truth, and is saddened by it. His world isn’t what he thought it was. I think the drab color in his outfit may be a reflection of his mood. I also like that, while he is standing while his friend crouch, he is still not as straight or tall as the goddess. This emphasizes her authority and importance further.

The painting is laid out like a scene in a play. Everything is centered and right up front. The gestures are clear and the figures are very well-defined. The landscape is like a painted backdrop in a play. It establishes that Arcadia is truly paradise—beautiful, with green fields and picturesque mountains that stretch as far as the eye can see. But in the center of it all, mounted on a rise for all to see, is the object and its inscription. Its meaning cannot be ignored.

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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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