Work The Eucharist
Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century
Prints and Drawings
In the second series of Sacraments that Poussin painted in Rome between 1644 and 1648 and that he sent to his friend Chantelou in Paris, the painting of the sacrament of the Eucharist was painted in autumn 1647. This was a preliminary drawing, and the final composition (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, loaned by the Duke of Sutherland) differs in only a few features.
From Last Supper to Eucharist
Poussin chose to illustrate the Seven Sacraments by scenes of the life of Christ, evoking the Eucharist by the founding episode of the Last Supper before the Passion. Christ, in the center, is surrounded by the recumbent apostles on classical-style couches, in an arrangement that Poussin had seen in the engravings of Antonio Bosio (d. 1629; Roma Sotterranea, 1632) reproducing paintings of the Roman catacombs. It is a triclinium in which the guests can be arranged on three sides or in a half-moon.
Faithful to the Gospel
Poussin respected the canonical basis of the scene. Christ blesses the bread that he is to give to the eleven faithful apostles around him and whose looks converge on his face, illuminated by a halo. Judas, the twelfth apostle, is leaving by the left. Jesus announces to his disciples that one of them will betray him.
Light and shade
Few of Poussin's drawings succeed as well as this one in the treatment of light and shade and in the dramatization of lighting. As in the work of Rembrandt, light plays a moral role, illuminating the face of Jesus and those of the apostles, curiously represented by ovals with wavy contours (we know that Poussin occasionally suffered from a trembling hand from the early 1640s onwards). He hesitated in certain details of the composition, and especially in the position of the apostle in the right foreground, first drawing him with a leg stretched out behind and then retouching the pose. The drawing bears on the left the initials of Chantelou, who commissioned the painting. This drawing thus also belonged to him.
BibliographyPrat Louis-Antoine, Rosenberg Pierre, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665 : Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 1994, II, n 266
Nicolas POUSSIN (Les Andelys, 1594-Rome, 1665)
Pen, brown and black inks, brown wash, white highlights on paper.
H. 15.7 cm; L. 25.4 cm
Collection of Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609-1694); collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830); collection of His de la Salle (1795-1878); gift by His de la Salle to the Louvre, 1866.
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