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Apollon amoureux de Daphné

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Prat Louis-Antoine

In Rome in 1664 Poussin gave his friend Camillo Massimi (1620-1677), later a cardinal, an unfinished painting that he was too exhausted to complete. This work is now in the Louvre (MI 776). A number of preparatory drawings survive, this being the most complete. The subject is one of Apollo's thwarted attempts to find love.

Revisiting Ovid

Poussin drew on the Metamorphoses of Ovid and other writers of antiquity for the subject of his final composition. Apollo, god of fertility and life, is sitting on the left. He is in love with Daphne, who is shown on the far right, her arms around her father, the river Peneus. Apollo's love will as usual be thwarted, because just as he catches up with her after the chase, she turns into a laurel shrub. A number of other episodes are also referred to in this work. On the left, Mercury is stealing an arrow from Apollo's quiver. The serpent Python is in the branches of the tree. In the center, Cupid is firing a blunt arrow at Daphne; its sole effect will be to make her want to flee Apollo. In the painting, although not in this drawing, Poussin also included the death of Narcissus or Hyacinth in the background on the right.

A slow process of development

The history of the work's development is complex. Poussin produced at least eight other preparatory drawings prior to this one. At first he considered depicting the hero as Apollo Sauroctonus, the Lizard Slayer, surrounded by a crowd of nymphs. He then linked this theme with that of a group of melancholy nymphs or nymphs playing dice-symbolizing the haphazard nature of fortune-before bringing all of these subjects together. The drawing in the Louvre is the most complicated of all the preparatory works. It is a meditation on the impossibility of love, the tricks destiny plays, and the brevity of human life as opposed to the permanence of nature.

Poussin's last work

This superb drawing, perfectly laid out, nevertheless shows in parts that the elderly artist's hand was growing shaky. However, the use of the wash reveals great delicacy of touch and the artist used black chalk to touch up certain details such as the dog lying on the left. The broad sweep of space with a subtly layered perspective is perfectly suited to the evocation of an impossible Arcadia and a Golden Age that is forever lost.

Bibliography

Prat Louis-Antoine, Rosenberg Pierre, Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665 : Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 1994, II, n 381.

Technical description

  • Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

    Apollo in Love with Daphne

    c. 1660-64

  • Pen and brown ink, brown wash and black chalk on cream paper squared with black chalk

    H. 30.7 cm; L. 43.9 cm

  • Saint-Morys collection, seizure of émigrés' possessions, 1793

    3932448

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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