Work Saint Frances of Rome Announcing the End of the Plague in Rome
Department of Paintings: French painting
Sainte Françoise Romaine
© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Angèle Dequier
Painted in about 1657 for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, later Pope Clement IX (1667-69), the work marks the end of an outbreak of plague in Rome. The disease, personified on the right, is expelled by an angel while Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440, canonized 1608), holding some broken arrows, appears in a vision to a Roman lady, possibly Anna Colonna, who died in 1658. Another interpretation is that the kneeling figure is the saint, while the vision represents either the Virgin or the Church.
A lost Poussin rediscovered
This work, made famous by two engravings by Giacomo del Po and Girard Audran, was painted for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi in Rome. His descendants owned the work in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but it was lost at the end of the eighteenth century. It was often referred to thereafter but was known only from the two engravings. After its miraculous reappearance on the Parisian art market in 1998, its whereabouts over the last two centuries gradually became known. The work had been sold in 1798 along with part of the Rospigliosi-Pallavicini collection following the Treaty of Tolentino, which proved a severe blow to the family's finances. It was later part of the collection of Alexis Le Go, secretary to the French Academy in Rome. He took the painting with him to the south of France in 1873. His heirs kept the painting, unaware of its history, and it was handed down within the family, who saw it as little more than a dusty old painting until an art specialist recognized it from the engravings. It was then acquired by the Louvre, where it is a valuable addition to the collection of the artist's mature works, which are underrepresented in the museum.
Saint Frances of Rome
Francesca dei Ponziani died in 1440 after a lifetime of visions and inner conflicts. She was canonized in 1608 by Pope Paul V Borghese in recognition of the popular esteem in which she was held by the people of Rome; after her death, she was known as the Advocate of Rome. Poussin's composition is centered around an oblique line. It shows the saint in Rome appearing to a veiled, kneeling woman, announcing the end of an outbreak of plague. It is said that she interceded with the Virgin to bring an end to the outbreak. The disease is personified in the monstrous figure of a deathly-looking woman with snakes entwined in her hair, carrying one of her victims on her back. An archangel dressed in yellow is helping the saint to expel the scourge. He is rushing towards the Plague in a solemn yet dynamic movement. Beneath the cloud bearing the figure of the saint lies another victim of the disease. The painting refers to the end of an outbreak of plague that struck a number of Italian cities, including Rome, in 1656. The terrified population called on Saint Frances, reputed as a miracle worker. Cardinal Rospigliosi must have commissioned Poussin to paint this homage to the saint after 1657, when the outbreak showed signs of coming to an end.
A classical Roman saint
The solemn composition of the painting, designed as a homage to Saint Frances of Rome, is yet another example of Poussin's use of classical references, both antique and modern, in his work. The scene takes place in impressive architectural surroundings with classical pilasters framing a large arcade. The figure of Plague draws on the Gladiator bearing a dead child, one of the famous antique statues held in the Farnese collections (now in the archeological museum in Naples). The reclining woman is a reference to Maderno's Saint Cecilia (1600, in the Church of Saint Cecilia in Rome). This sculpture was well known in Rome and was often used as a model by artists.
Nicolas POUSSIN (Les Andelys, 1594 - Rome, 1665)
Sainte Françoise Romaine
H. : 1,30 m. ; L. : 1,01 m.
Acquis en 1999 grâce à la Société des Amis du Louvre,avec la participation du Fonds du Patrimoine , 1999
R.F. 1999. 1
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.