28 Oct 2013 5:00pm - 6:30pm Mill Lane Lecture Room 9


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 consecutively painted two series of Sacrements – seven canvases on the major and exemplary episodes of the life of Christ: Le Baptême (baptism of Christ), La Pénitence (the meal at Simon the Pharisee’s), L’Eucharistie (the Last Supper), L’ordre (Christ delivers keys to Saint Peter); and of the life of the Virgin Mary: Le Mariage (Virgin Mary’s wedding); in both cases, La confirmation and L’extrême-onction, he sticks to liturgical events of the early church. The first series was created for Poussin's principal Roman patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), the second one for his French patron Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609-1694). We know that the second series was painted between 1643 and 1648 and know the date of creation of each picture, but this is not the case for the first series which was started in Rome around 1634 (?) and finished in Paris in 1642. The Cassiano series, the first one, stayed within the patron's family until 1785. For a long time, his descendants, being heavily indebted, had wanted to get rid of the paintings, but the pontifical authorities were against it. In 1785, James Byres (1734-1817) a Scottish merchant – calling himself an antiquarian – invented an unpleasant ploy to get the paintings out of Italy under cover. In order to mislead visitors and Italian authorities, he replaced the originals with copies. When Poussin's works arrived in London, renowned English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds who had encouraged Charles Manners, fourth Duke of Rutland to acquire these paintings exulted: “Rome is now much poorer, and England is richer than it was by their acquisition”. In 1816, one of the paintings was burned in Belvoir Castle, home of the dukes of Rutland. Another, the Sacrement, which now belongs to the National Gallery of Washington was sold in 1939. Fort Worth was able to acquire a third one in 2010. Finally, very recently (2012), the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge made the brilliant acquisition of L’extrême-onction. It is not known what will happen with the other three paintings. Around the same period, the second series of Sacrements, the Chantelou one, left France instead of Italy with the entire collection of the Dukes of Orleans: bought in 1793 by Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater (1736-1803), the series has remained intact within the duke's family and since 1946 has been deposited at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Since 1964, it belongs to the Earl of Ellesmere, Duke of Sutherland. Both series of the Sacrements occupy a central place in Poussin's career. The works are not easily accessible, discovering their beauty requires time. Beyond a scrupulous respect for archaeological truth, Poussin desired to educate and move his viewers, and succeeded in this. When he came to Paris in 1665, Bernini visited Chantelou to see Les Sacrements, just after Poussin's death. He starred at each painting for a long period of time. During an evening walk, he said: “Non mi posso levar del pensamento questi suoi quadri”. A moving tribute from the greatest “Baroque” artist of the 17th century to the painter who himself symbolises “classicism”.

Other events in this series:




About the Professorship

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.

Previous Humanitas Visiting Professor in History of Art

2012-13: Philippe de Montebello (Director Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)

Standing Committee

Jean Michel Massing (History of Art)
Frank Salmon (History of Art)
Deborah Howard (Architecture)
Alyce Mahon (History of Art)

Hosting College

Clare College

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Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk