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Analysis of the ‘Triumph of Bacchu’ Painting by Nicholas Poussin Essay

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Introduction

In this painting, Nicholas Poussin depicts the Triumph of Baucchus, the God of Wine. It is actually a copy of Poussin’s original piece at the Nelson Art Gallery of Art museum, Kansas. The action centers on Pan, a deity that causes the action of even the spectators who are not interested or even looking at him.[1] The characters in the foreground, as well as the ‘river god’ depicted at the bottom right of the picture, are cerebrating Baucchu’s victory.[2]

The piece of artwork is a good example of Poussion’s series of French Baroque paintings. Arguably, the use of color, texture, light and dark and the theme makes the painting one of the best examples of Poussin’s distinguished pieces of work that depict his style as both a Baroque art and a Venice renaissance, where Poussin appears to use a cool, cerebral, detached and intellectual style to create unique piece.

Poussin: Historical content

The genre of work

The ‘Triumph of Bacchus’ is a historical painting that depicts non-recurring events. These events are primarily religious, literal, classical and allegorical sources, which are the products of the Italian Renaissance of 15th and 16th centuries. These paintings contain religious themes or presentations of recent activities, but they are mostly associated with classical topic.[3]

The element of color

Poussin’s ability to apply the three basic attributes of color (hue, saturation and value) is evident in the painting. He uses color to develop different meanings and communicate the themes in his work. First, the viewer is attracted to the figure in the middle left of the painting, which depicts Bacchu sitting on a chariot. Poussin has concentrated bright white color on the body of the god, which appears naked on its right side.

He is sitting on a bright red chariot, while the rest of the chariots body is light brown. The contrast in the three colors gives the god a clear appearance.[4] It creates a contrast of colors between the god’s body, his chair and the lower parts of the chariot. In this way, Poussion is easily attracts the eye of the viewer. Apart from the god, the horse drawing the chariot as well as its rider is depicted with a good application of hue.

The horse has a whitish color, but its head, which appears to take the shape of a man, is brownish red. The white color of the rider creates a contrast between the body of the horse, its head and the blue clothing he is wearing. Other figures on the background assume a dark color, which further creates a contrast that creates the difference between them and the main characters on the foreground. In addition, bright white and brownish grey colors are used to depict the nymphs, and other creatures.

Element of motion

The element of motion is evident in the painting. Poussin has used motion to describe the vigor and agility shown by the characters. In particular, the human-headed horse and its rider are in vigorous motion, while the characters in front of the horse seem to be fleeing away from the horse.[5] However, the characters in the background seem to be in a more calm motion, probably cheering the arrival of the god from victory.

Element of exaggeration

Baroque paintings are normally a part of European Renaissance revolution, mainly made on oil and canvas. Poussin preferred oil on canvas for his works. In addition, the French Baroque and Italian renaissance aspects are evident in this piece of artwork because the effect of light, dark and shade are real. In particular, his paintings often feature some exaggerations of light, intensity of emotions, restrain and sensation.[6]

Exaggeration of light, dark and intensity of emotions are some of the main features of Baroque paintings. In fact, the exaggerations seek to capture the viewers’ attention in explaining the imaginary and exaggerated theme. The paintings do not depict lifestyle of the people at the time of their development, but they reaffirm the existence of the religion at the time they are made.[7]

Purpose of the work

The Catholic Church can trace the purpose of the work by Poussin to the recognition of his work. At around 1635, Poussion, living in Rome, received a prestigious commission from Paris, when Richelieu, the Cardinal of Paris, ordered a set of Bacchanals to cerebrate the specific antique gods. [8] By the end of 1636, Poussin had produced three of the required works- the Triumph of Bacchals, the Triumph of Pan and the Triumph of Silenus, which were placed at the Cabinet du Roi Richelieu’s chateau in Poitoui.[9]

Themes

Poussin’s Triumph of Bacchus shows the victory of Bacchus, the God of Wine. Here, the god is depicted on the left side of the picture, and is seated on a magnificent chariot. A number of satyrs, centaurs, putti and nymphs lead the chariot. Among these creatures is the famous Pan, who is carrying his pipes.

In addition, Hercules is shown carrying a tripod, a cause of disagreement in the ancient Greek mythologies about Hercules and Apollo.[10] Here, Apollo is shown among the clouds that are leading the chariot. On the lower right side of the scene, Poussin has made a magnificent river god that has an inverted amphora beside him.[11]

According to analysts, this figure could have been associated with the Indus River and India because Bacchus is an Indian mythology.[12] This depiction proves to be one of the best examples of Poussin’s mythological depictions in his work. In his mythological composition, the artist focuses on the narrative sequence, but at the same time, he has placed an emphasis on the influences of classical styles of paintings.

In addition, he has shown the presence of Italian Renaissance in his work, especially the equilibrium and naturalistic movements developed by Raphael.[13] The use of warm colors and as well as romantic atmosphere is characteristics of the paintings from the Venetian Renaissance. Moreover, the lively movements as well as gesture are an indication of the vigor and counter-balance of classical baroque.

Conclusion

The change in location is perhaps one of the reasons that change the understanding of the work in the modern context. Since the piece is now located at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in London, it is evidence that viewers will likely develop a difference perception of the work from its original themes.

For instance, in the modern context, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism is no more, and one would not take the painting as an influential piece in religious wars. In addition, if the piece of work remains at Poitoui, it would be possible to associate it with ancient religious issues. However, it is still a good example of Baroque paintings, and provides modern viewers with an insight into the pattern of development of art in Europe.

Bibliography

Andersen, Liselotte. Baroque and Rococo Art. New York: H. N. Abrams, 2002.

Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo: Praeger World of Art Series. New York: Praeger, 2004.

Carrier, David. Poussin’s Paintings: A Study in Art-Historical Methodology. London: Springer

Mahon, Denis. “Nicolas Poussin and Venetian Painting: A New Connexion-I.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 88, no. 514 (1996): 15-20

Footnotes

  1. David Carrier, Poussin’s Paintings: A Study in Art-Historical Methodology (London: Springer, 2008), 21
  2. Denis Mahon, “Nicolas Poussin and Venetian Painting: A New Connexion-I,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 88, no. 514 (1996): 16
  3. Carrier, 58
  4. Carrier, 62
  5. Bazin, 44
  6. Bazin, 63
  7. Liselotte Andersen, Baroque and Rococo Art (New York: H. N. Abrams, 2002), 67
  8. Carrier, 76
  9. Mahon, 16
  10. Carrier, 88
  11. Andersen
  12. Mahon, 17
  13. 46
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IvyPanda. "Analysis of the ‘Triumph of Bacchu’ Painting by Nicholas Poussin." April 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/analysis-of-the-triumph-of-bacchu-painting-by-nicholas-poussin/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Analysis of the ‘Triumph of Bacchu’ Painting by Nicholas Poussin." April 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/analysis-of-the-triumph-of-bacchu-painting-by-nicholas-poussin/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Analysis of the ‘Triumph of Bacchu’ Painting by Nicholas Poussin'. 11 April.

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