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Vénus à la fontaine

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Prat Louis-Antoine

This drawing, which dates from the end of Poussin's life and has no known corresponding painting, seems to be by his own hand. It was most likely an illustration of an antique text. Poussin surely wanted to celebrate beauty, love, and fertility all in the same image.

The ancient authors

Poussin was a great reader of the ancient Greek authors. Here he was probably inspired by images from the Greek Philostratus (l, 6), whom he had read in the French edition by Blaise de Vigenère. The drawing shows Venus leaning on the fountain of love, admiring herself in a mirror; behind her is the statue of Priapus, the god of fertility. In the foreground, nine cupids are playfully chasing a hare that they wish to offer Venus. The drawing thus blends the themes of love, beauty, and fertility.

Dated by the letter on the back

It's not always easy to date Poussin's drawings, but this one is unusual in that he drew it on the back of a letter of introduction from a young artist named Antoine Bouzonnet-Stella. The letter, dated 17 August 1657, is thus a terminus ante quem - a date before which the drawing could not have been executed. No painting seems to have followed the drawing. However, Bouzonnet-Stella himself used it as inspiration for a similar painting.

A trembling hand

Poussin suffered from bouts of illness from the early 1640s, and the tremor in his hand worsened considerably at the end of his life; it is particularly noticeable here in the pen strokes outlining the cupids. For Venus, shown standing on the left, Poussin hesitated over the position of her right arm (lying against her body or dressing her hair?) which gives her three arms! An impressive, lavishly applied dark brown wash gives rhythm to the masses of foliage, on the right, and strengthens the powerful geometrical shape of the fountain in the center of the drawing.

Bibliography

L.-A. Prat, P. Rosenberg, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665 : Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 1994, II, n 366

Technical description

  • Nicolas POUSSIN (Villers, near Les Andelys, 1594 - Rome, 1665)

    Venus at the Fountain

    c. 1657-1660

  • Pen, brown ink, brown wash

    H. 25.6 cm; W. 23.2 cm

  • Gift to the Louvre from His de La Salle, 1878

    40762

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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Additional information about the work

On the back, a letter to Poussin from Antoine Bouzonnet-Stella