This event is free and open to all
Pierre Rosenberg, former Director of the Louvre, will give a series of three public lectures on Poussin in England and participate in a concluding symposium on Thursday 31 October.
Poussin treated the theme of Éliezer and Rebecca three times. The Louvre picture painted in 1648 for Jean Pointel, one of Poussin’s main French patrons, is considered one of the artist’s masterpieces and was already recognised as such in 1665, when it entered Louis XIV’s collections. The debate that opposed Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) and Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture has remained notorious. Champaigne reproached Poussin for the absence of the camels that Rebecca had watered. Unlike the painting from the Louvre – which shows one successive episode of the biblical tale, in which Eliezer gives Rebecca the jewels that Abraham, the father of Isaac (her husband to be), had intended for her – the camels are present on the two other versions of Eliezer and Rebecca, the one formerly in the collection of Sir Denis Mahon (1910-2011), and the one formerly owned by Sir Anthony Blunt (1907-1983). The first painting, an early work bought by Mahon in a public sale in 1964 under the name of Pietro Testa and recently sold to the Wildenstein gallery in New York, has not always been recognised as an authentic work by Poussin – mistakenly, as we will demonstrate. Anthony Blunt’s painting, an unfinished masterpiece bought in 1932 for 100 pounds and today preserved at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, is one of Poussin’s last works. Mahon’s and Blunt’s paintings both had ‘pendants’ on the theme of Christ and the Samaritan woman, which have been lost. We know about the first one thanks to an old photograph; the second one was represented in an engraving. Mahon’s picture and his ‘pendant’ had been painted for one of Poussin’s oldest and most important patrons, Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657). The pozzo (the well) was clearly represented on the painting of Christ and the Samaritan woman, and made a reference to the family name of this important collector. The fact that two 20th-century English experts on Poussin who didn’t appreciate each other much owned their version of Eliezer and Rebecca is quite delightful.
Other vents in this series:
The Humanitas Chair in the History of Art has been made possible by the generous support of J E Safra.
The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in the History of Art explores a wide range of approaches to the history of art, from the economic, social and philosophical to the cultural and aesthetic.
Jean Michel Massing (History of Art)
Frank Salmon (History of Art)
Deborah Howard (Architecture)
Alyce Mahon (History of Art)