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Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun are undoubtedly the most recognized painters of the 17th century. Poussin is well-known for creation of the classical style paintings that emphasized precision, logic, rationality, and order; he also preferred clean lines over color. On the other hand, Charles Le Brun is famous for interior décor in King Louis XIV palace. French painting of the 17th century was greatly influenced by the Italian Baroque, as well as Classicism, peculiar for its sensibility. The strong influences from both Italian Baroque and Classicism gave rise to a unique French style chosen by many artists who made incredible paintings. The focus of this paper is to identify the similarities between the works “Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man” and “The Abduction of the Sabine Women” by Nicolas Poussin and “Everhard Jabach and His Family” by Charles Le Brun. The paper will also establish a connection between these three pieces of art and philosophical concepts of Rene Descartes.
Summary Evaluation of the Three Artworks
*Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man. Artist: Nicolas Poussin (French, Les Andelys 1594–1665 Rome)
On the face of it, the concept that Poussin portrays is religious in nature. In the Book of Acts, Peter and John cures a leper by invoking the name of Jesus. The desire of the lame man was to acquire wealth (Silver and Gold) from the two Apostles, but he received healing.
Poussin’s intention in this painting was to respond to the striking and substantial Classicism of Raphael’s artworks. The elements used in the piece of art have been clipped to a minimal and plain aspect. Some of the figures in the painting are seated, others are standing or facing the audience, some of them are facing away while others are gesturing expressively. However, the painting portrays the artist’s sense of authority and invention that embodies classical aspects. The use of saturated colors is a result of inspirations borrowed from the Roman wall paintings.
*The Abduction of the Sabine Women. Artist: Nicolas Poussin (French, Les Andelys 1594–1665 Rome)
The painting expresses active and assertive style that Poussin adopted, imitating the ancient history. On the face of it, the artist’s objective was to explore hypocrisy of the Romans after inviting the Sabines with a hidden plan to forcibly abduct their wives. Romans followed the Sabines in pursuit of material prosperity. Therefore, they had to abduct the Sabines’ wives in order to stymie their enemies. Poussin’s intention in this painting is to caution the viewers to control their passions for the good of all.
*Everhard Jabach (1618–1695) and His Family. Artist: Charles Le Brun (French, Paris 1619–1690 Paris)
The painting of Everhard Jabach IV and his family is acknowledged as the most significant portrait created during the 17th century. It serves as a landmark of the French art. Charles Le Brun was on the verge of becoming a renowned artist in France when the painting was being commissioned. Charles Le Brun portrayed family members nestled against each other, together with their pets. Furthermore, the atist is also present in the painting, being reflected in the mirror, which emphasizes close relationship with these people. Jabach’s intention was to invite the audience to admire his affluence by paying their attention to the pile of books, drawings, ancient sculptures and other elements that indicate his culture and intellect. Charles Le Brun’s presence in the painting shows his support of the collector. The most remarkable aspect of this artwork is the manner in which Le Brun balances representation of wealth with the attractive depiction of Jabach and his family members sitting around him (Keazor 151-165).
The belief that painting in the ancient history was mere description is baseless. Some people claim that before the 20th century, elements of line and color were unimaginable. However, Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun dispel this belief by using all these elements in the three paintings. When one examines ancient paintings beyond the content, Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun’s works are similar in terms of distribution and balance of colors, shapes, and depth (Keazor 151-165). All these qualities are masterfully presented in all the three pieces of art. The following characteristics depicts the style used in the three paintings.
a) Warm and sensual colors
While Poussin was still in France, he acquired most of his inspirations from the Venetian Renaissance. The inspiration is evident from the use of warm and sensual colors. However, while staying in Italy, he became obsessed with classical art. Thereafter, as observed from his works, warm and fleshy tones were no longer present in his paintings. Instead, he created most of his works using dull colors. Similarly, most of Le Brun’s paintings are characterized by a fusion of both Baroque and Classical styles. Furthermore, the three artworks have been greatly saturated with Baroque energy and enthusiasm. The two artists seem to emphasize lines and contours, which determines their incentive in maintaining the atmosphere of antique paintings (Keazor 151-165).
Furthermore, the presence of the two artists in Rome influenced their impetus to adhere to Classical art. Besides drawing inspiration from antique art and architecture, these artists also borrowed a range of ideas from the ancient scripts, philosophies and literature. There is also a similarity in the use of rhetorical gestures. For example, postures, gestures and facial expressions of the figures used in all the three paintings are significant to the overall meaning of the artworks. The two artists have carefully planned poses for the painted figures by using correct “rhetorical gestures”. Most of the gestures used in these three pieces appear to be stiff, peculiar or even sensational to the contemporary audience, but such style was unique in the early times (Keazor 151-165).
The use of cooler colors is another common feature of the three paintings. The choice of color was determined by the message the painter intended to send to the viewer. The use of the colder colors in the three paintings was expected to produce a particular effect. For example, in “The Abduction of the Sabinee Women”, Poussin used a mixture of discordant colors to illustrate feelings of sorrow and loss. Moreover, in the three pieces of art, the figures appear in the forefront of the paintings, and it is apparent that the space was carefully measured. In general, each element used in the three arts, such as colors, lines and forms, makes a certain psychological impact on the audience. In terms of cultural significance, each artwork plays a certain role, sending a particular message to the viewer. However, in general, the three pieces put emphasis on the implication of material wealth, which can either bring society together or cause disintegration. For example, in ‘“The Abduction of the Sabine Women”, material opulence is what triggers the Romans to abduct the Sabines’ wives. On the other hand, the painting that depicts the healing of the lame man elucidates that material wealth is not a solution to every problem in society. Finally, the portrait of Jabach and his family symbolizes that material wealth can cultivate family togetherness. In other words, the three artworks show that material wealth is important only if it serves for the greater good (Keazor 151-165).
Descartes’ Influence on Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun
Descartes tremendously contributed to the works of Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun. At a glance, there seems to be clear indications of Descartes’ writings in Poussin’s works. Poussin’s objective in all his paintings was to direct, influence or control. This is also evident in Charles Le Brun’s paintings. For instance, the three paintings show that the intention of the artists is either to direct or caution the viewer about the implication of material opulence. Both artists borrowed the idea from Descartes, who emphasized the notion of stoicism. According to Descartes, material wealth or rather the possession of assets should not trigger passion. People should learn to use their assets properly. Descartes’ philosophy of stoicism, particularly his notion of “free will”, is evident in these three paintings. It is obvious that material wealth is what controls passion. Poussin wanted to remind his viewers that although there is a direct connection between thoughts and passion, one can control such a desire by doing what is right.
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The primary focus of this paper was to explore the similarities between the three artworks by Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun in terms of their content, style, and cultural significance. The three areas have been meticulously explored. For instance, the artists preferred using colder colors in these paintings to produce a specific effect to the viewer. In terms of cultural significance, the three works emphasize the aspect of material wealth and its implications (both positive and negative ones) towards society. It is also evident that most of the elements these paintings are comprised of have been borrowed from one of the greatest philosophers – Rene Descartes. The idea of stoicism or the free will unites the works of these two artists. Moreover, artistic styles of both Poussin and Le Brun were significantly influenced by the Baroque and Classical periods.
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