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Work Summer, or Ruth and Boaz
Department of Paintings: French painting
Summer, or Ruth and Boaz
© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Ruth, a poor Moabite servant, gains permission from Boaz to glean in his fieds. She becomes his wife and bears him a son, Obed, the grand-father of David, the ancestor of Christ.
The four seasons
Summer is part of a series of four canvases representing the seasons, painted by Poussin between 1660 and 1664 for Armand-Jean, duke of Richelieu. In 1665, the duke lost twenty-five paintings from his collection in a game of real tennis against the king; thirteen of them were by Poussin. The Seasons thus joined the royal collections at Versailles and subsequently the national collections in the Louvre. Each season is associated with a Biblical scene from the Old Testament and shows a particular time of day: Spring links the rebirth of nature to Adam and Eve in a morning landscape; Summer is characterized by the harvest and presents the story of Ruth and Boaz with the sun at its zenith; Autumn is evoked by the wine harvest and a late afternoon light showing grapes from Canaan; and, finally, Winter sets the scene of the Flood in a crepuscular light.
Landscape in painting and music
In a vast, sun-drenched landscape, reapers are busy harvesting barley. In the foreground, the painter depicts a story from the Book of Ruth. Ruth has fallen on hard times and goes to the fields to glean a few sheaves of grain. She happens to stray onto land belonging to Boaz who, moved by the young woman's plight, gives her permission to glean on his land and ends up taking her as his wife. A son, Obed, was later born to them, from whom Jesse and David, the ancestors of Christ, were descended. The story has been interpreted as prefiguring Christ's union with the Church. This painting, together with Autumn, is the most luminous of the series - Spring and Winter, the first and last paintings, are considerably darker. The cycle thus has the rhythm of a musical composition, with scenes of bustling activity framing more subdued ones. With his skillfully constructed landscapes, Poussin also imbues these works with a poetic quality in which nature and the atmosphere play a full part in the stories depicted.
A visual legacy
These four paintings, completed a year before Poussin's death, may be considered his visual legacy. In them we find all the essential features of his work, which was poetic, innovative, and complex. The depiction of the seasons is not in itself a novelty, but portraying them in the form of landscapes and introducing Biblical scenes into them is the painter's own invention. These works were greatly admired as soon as they arrived in France. The paintings has also given rise to many intrepretations, but the richness of their content has not been exhausted. And then there is the moving reminder of the trembling that afflicted the elderly painter's hands at the end of his life, evident in the free and slightly shaky execution of these works - a feature also present to a certain extent in Apollo and Daphne (Louvre), a painting left unfinished at the artist's death.
Summer, or Ruth and Boaz
Oil on canvas
H. 1.18 m; W: 1.60 m
Louis XIV Collection (acquired from the duke of Richelieu in 1665)
ou Ruth et Booz
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