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Nicolas Poussin: “The Adoration of the Golden Calf” Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 19th, 2021

In the world of prevailing dynamism, that is moving from progress to greater progress, or better said beauty to higher beauty in an endless motion, underneath all ostensible pandemonium and bewilderment. This has happened down the ages of history in every century and artists in each century have depicted the society in their artwork through conscious formulations. Nicolas Poussin is one such painter and his selected work, “The Adoration of the Golden Calf”, for the analysis is an example of art with “profound humane values of religion and dramatization (Boorstin 176). The painting (153.4 x 211.8 cm) was created in 1633-1634 on the medium ‘oil on canvas’ (Boorstin 176).

Nicolas Poussin (1594 –1665) was born in France and he drew in Classical style. His work can be distinctively identified by the use of logical order of placement of characters in the paintings with emphasis on lines over the use of color. Clarity is another significant aspect in his paintings. During his time, the 17th century, “Baroque style was the major driving art force” (Boorstin 175) but he decided to serve as an alternative force and persisted with the Classical style. “Paul Cézanne and Jacques-Louis David considered him as a major inspiration” (Boorstin 175).

The subject of the painting is based on Hebrew bible that depicts the story of the Israelites while Moses was away to Mount Sinai. They created an idol of the Egyptian calf demigod and decided to erect a temple in its honor. The scene depicted in the painting is the situation when the idol is being given adulation before the arrival of Moses. The fundamental aspects of the painting are deep rooted in its motifs that consist of ethnocentric approach.

This means, the essence of the painting is predominantly based on ethnic or tribal approach. It is definitely primitive as it was conceived before the development of the Ancient or Classical era. The term ‘totem’ indicates motifs or tribal gods. In this case the Golden Calf is definitely such a motif. This Golden calf was also the symbol of the tribe. By symbol, it means that the Calf became the identifying motif of the tribe (Sayre 224).

In the painting, dark colors are often used to show calmness. Also, when painting, if one uses wider and more circular strokes with a lighter press on the brush, so, it would be more advisable to use lighter. Lighter colors often give off a feeling of warmth and happiness, which is something that one would like to be doing. The entire painting is painted with the help of Implied Lines. The lines are merged with the subject of the painting.

The curved lines of the tree and the lines of the hills make the painting well balanced. The artist has used Organic Shapes and not geometric shapes in the painting. The hill can be enumerated as a geometric shape but in reality the artist has transformed it into a natural curve to make it a part of the nature. The mass in the painting is implied with the use of dark and light color. The dark colors starts from left of the canvas and gradually turns into light shades all through the right part of the canvas providing an implied sense of mass.

The 2D space is created to provide an Illusion of Depth with Diminishing Size from left to right in descending order. The perspective is Linear perspective and it is geometrically accurate. Additionally, time and motion is captured in this painting with high degree of efficiency. The Implying Motion of the woman working is captured with grace. The illusion of light created out of implied light with strong value contrasts method that is strong on tone and value with gradual displacement of dark color with light color. Color is a very important aspect of this painting where black, red, ash and dark green is used to represent the closer perspective values.

The use of light colors, like light yellow, light brown, white and light blue, make the right side more open and visually unfastened. “The texture is implied as the painting is smooth but the different aspects of light; color and space make the texture actual in appearance” (Sayre 224).

The element of Unity can be found in the natural use of shapes and subjects and Variety can be observed in form of color and perspective. Asymmetrical Balance is the driving force of the painting. The left side is closer to the viewer than the right side along with use of the color red and perspective. The focal point of the painting is the house in brown and white and the entire emphasis is in the light shades in the right part of the painting. The lines and repeated elements create paths for the eyes to follow from the left side to the right side of the painting. The variation of value, color and scale creates a great contrast throughout the landscape of the painting. The aspects of Repetition and Rhythm are spread all over the painting.

However, to truly create something that gives off a strong aesthetic presence, one usually must feel some sort of emotional attachment. The characteristic of the artist lies in the feeling for whatever he is working on. Only then will one truly pour out everything from the heart and mind. When one can accomplish this, one can create something with true aesthetic value in the line of a characteristic of an artist. If one can describe the emotions in the artwork, it becomes easier for others to understand what one was trying to do. In a way this creates a bond between the artist and the observer, allowing true aesthetic value to be created within a work of art and this is the main characteristic of the artist in the painting.

Nicolas Poussin created a unique form of his own. It would relevant to mention that it is widely believed that the artistic movement of Baroque style ideology in the context of painting came into existence during his time. The perception of painting was formulated by a number of painters and the basic ideology was based on the progression of art where basic issue was represented as life should reflect the inner self of the human mind based on common decorative features that reflected on artworks, advertisements and fashion at the same time. But Nicolas Poussin remained in his true self of dramatic form and approach as in seen the painting “The Adoration of the Golden Calf”.

In this context, it should be mentioned that the art form created by the artist is true representation of life in its complete realism but in a very poetic and dramatic manner. The painting is one of the best examples of his genre. Overall the painting is very satisfying for viewing and it provides the viewer a sense of openness and closer to nature. There is a sense of tranquility and the use of lines and texture along with the sense of time and motion makes the painting a true representation of landscape and dramatic art.

Works Cited

Boorstin, John. The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination. New York: Random House, 2004.

Sayre, Henry. A World Of Art. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006.

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