The Infant Bacchus Entrusted To The Nymphs Of Nysa; The Death Of Echo And Narcissus
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Poussin was a French expatriate resident in Rome for most of his career. His insistence on the primacy of form and theme over color and painterly effects made him the preeminent exponent of a severe, stoic classicism. His ideas and methods were so admired that they became the model for European art academies. This painting was commissioned in 1657 by his friend and fellow painter Jacques Stella, whose Liberality of Titus also hangs in this gallery. Poussin’s picture elaborates themes drawn from classical sources, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Euripides’s Bacchae, Philostratus’s Imagines, and later scholarly commentaries to produce a dense allegory of human destiny. The main theme visualizes the birth and secret nurturing of Bacchus by the nymphs of Nysa. Fertility (Bacchus) and sterility (Narcissus and Echo) are represented through a visual meditation on the character of a specific natural and sacred site — Nysa — in the ancient Greek city-state of Thebes.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Nicolas Poussin, French (Les Andelys, France 1594 - 1665 Rome, Italy)
The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of Nysa; The Death of Echo and Narcissus
Work Type
Level 2, Room 2400, European Art, 17th century, Rome and Its Influence in the Seventeenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
122.6 x 180.5 cm (48 1/4 x 71 1/16 in.)
framed: 139.5 x 198 x 9.2 cm (54 15/16 x 77 15/16 x 3 5/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • exhibition label: on back of frame, black ink on paper: [illegible, covered by metal bracket]
  • exhibition label: on back of frame, black ink on blue and white paper label:: [New York World's Fair, catalogue no. 55]
  • inscription: on back of frame, in white chalk:: 6[38?]
Painted for Jacques Stella, 1657, sold; by Stella family before 1693. Jean Neyret de la Ravoye, before 1701. Possibly Paul and André Vérani de Varenne, by 1713. Philippe, duc d'Orléans, by descent; to Louis-Philippe called Philippe Egalité, 1723, sold; to Walkuers (with the Orléans Collection), 1790, sold; to Laborde of Méréville, 1790, sold; to the Bridgewater-Carlisle-Stafford syndicate, bought by Bryan, 1798, sold; to John Willett Willett, December 1798, sold [through his sale, London, June 2, 1813, lot 124 (bought in)]; by Pinney. Chevalier Sébastian Erard, Paris, 1824. [Henry, Paris, August 7, 1832, lot 192], bought in. [Christie's, London, June 22, 1833, lot 35], bought in. [Christie's, London, May 5, 1849, lot 137], sold; to Wiggins. Adrian Hope, sold; to Sir A. Hayter, by descent (?); to Lord Haversham (son-in-law of Adrian Hope), sold [through Hope sale, Christie's, London, 1894, lot 55]. [Christie's, London, April 20, 1923, lot 75], sold; to [Durlacher Brothers, London], sold; to Samuel Sachs, New York, July 1923, by descent; to Mrs. Samuel Sachs, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1942.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs in memory of her husband, Samuel Sachs
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Dubois de Saint-Gelais, Description des Tableaux du Palais Royal, avec a Vie des Peintres à la tête de leurs Ouvrages. De' Die'e a Monseigneur le Duc d'Orleans (Paris, 1727), pp. 352-353

John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dtuch, Flemish and French Painters, Smith and Son (London, 1838), pp. 107-180, no. 205

Walter Friedlaender, Nicolas Poussin ; die Entwicklung seiner Kunst. Mit einhundertsiebenunddreissig Abbildungen, R. Piper & Co Verlag (Munich, 1914), pp. 99, 123

Anthony Blunt, The Heroic and the Ideal Landscape in the Work of Nicolas Poussin, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (London, 1944), Vol. 7, pp. 154-168, pp. 165-168, repr. as 43a

A Loan Exhibition of French Painting of the Time of Louis XIIIth and Louis XIVth, exh. cat., Wildenstein & Company (New York, 1946), cat. no. 42, pp. 66-67, repr.

Dora Panofsky, Narcissus and Echo: Notes on Poussin's Birth of Bacchus in the Fogg Museum of Art, Art Bulletin (June 1949), vol. 31, no. 2, p. 112ff, repr.

Agnes Mongan, The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs by Poussin, Annual Report (Fogg Art Museum) (Cambridge, MA, 1958/1959), pp. 29-37, pp. 29-37, repr. p. 33

Jean Grenier, L'esthétique classique vue à travers Poussin, exh. cat. (October 1959), pp. 46-47, repr.

Anthony Blunt and Walter Friedlaender, Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665, exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Toledo Museum of Art (Minneapolis, 1959), pp. 11-12, 28, repr. as fig. 20

Malcolm Vaughan, Poussin in America, Connoisseur (1959), vol. 143, pp. 123-127, p. 127, repr.

Denis Mahon, Réflexions sur les Paysages de Poussin, Art de France: revue annuelle de l'art ancien et moderne (Paris, 1961), vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 119-132, pp. 122, 125-127, repr. p. 127

Agnes Mongan, Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965] : given and bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1965), p. 10, cat. no. 92, repr.

Walter Friedlaender, Nicolas Poussin: A New Approach, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1966), pp.190-192, repr. p. 191 as plate 45

Anthony Blunt, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin: A Critical Catalogue, Phaidon Press (London, England, 1966), pp. 92-93, no. 132

Eunice Williams, Gods & Heroes: Baroque Images of Antiquity, Wildenstein Gallery, New York (New York, NY, 1968), no. 32, repr.

George M. A. Hanfmann, Hermes and Dionysus: A "Neo-Attic" Relief, Acquisitions (Fogg Art Museum) (Cambridge, MA, 1969/1970), pp. 41-49, p. 48, repr. as fig. 5

Jacques Thuillier, L'opera completa di Nicolas Poussin, Rizzoli Editore (Milan, 1974), p. 110, no. 204, repr.

Sydney J. Freedberg, "Lorenzo Lotto to Nicolas Poussin", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 389-397, p. 397, repr. p. 397 as fig. 17

Caroline Houser, Dionysos and His Circle: Ancient Through Modern, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1979), p. 68, no. 47

Anthony Blunt, The Drawings of Poussin, Yale University Press (New Haven, 1979), pp. 13, 79, 81-82, 189, repr. as fig. 96

László Emőke, Flamand és francia kárpitok Magyarországon, Corvina Kiadó (Budapest, 1980), p. 63, repr. as fig. 95

Doris Wild, Nicolas Poussin: Katalog der Werke, Orell Füssli Verlag (Zurich, 1980), p. 181, repr.

Pierre Rosenberg, France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-Century French Paintings in American Collections, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1982), p. 369, cat. no 4, repr.

Kristin A. Mortimer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums/Abbeville Press (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY, 1985), no. 195, p. 171, repr.

Michael Maek-Gerard, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain: Zu den Bildern im Städel, exh. cat., Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Stadtische Galerie (Frankfurt, 1988), p. 48, repr. as fig. 42

Hilliard T. Goldfarb, From Fontainebleau to the Louvre: French Drawing from the Seventeenth Century, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art/Indiana University Press (Cleveland, 1989), pp. 58-60, repr. p. 60 as fig. 23a

David Carrier, Blindness and the Representation of Desire in Poussin's Paintings, RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA, 1990/1991), no. 19/20, pp. 31-52, pp. 43-45, repr. p. 44 as fig. 8

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 53, color plate; pp. 125, 207, repr. b/w cat. no. 218

Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlöf, Ideal Landscape: Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, Yale University Press (New Haven, 1990), pp. 126-128, repr. p. 127

Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665, exh. cat., Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 1994), pp. 95, 498-499, no. 228, repr. p. 499

Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665: catalogue raisonné des dessins, Leonardo (Milan, Italy, 1994), vol. I, under cat. no. 364, p. 702, fig. 364b, repr.

Richard Verdi, Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665, Royal Academy of Arts and Zwemmer (London, 1995), pp. 292, 308-309, cat. no. 38, repr. p. 292 (detail), 308

James Cuno, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, Harvard University Art Museums/Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), pp. 172-3

Elizabeth Cropper and Charles Dempsey, Nicolas Poussin: friendship and the love of painting, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1996), colorplate X

Carol L. Kaplan, "En quête de l'Arcadie: Gide lecteur de Poussin", Bulletin des Amis d'André Gide (October 1997), vol. XXV, no. 116, pp. 425-438, pp. 426-427, repr. in b/w

H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, History of Art for Young People, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1997), p. 379, fig. 320

Thomas Bulfinch, The Illustrated Age of Fable: Myths of Greece and Rome, Frances Lincoln Limited (London, England, 1998), p. 119, repr. in color

Dr. Nigel Saint, Marguerite Yourcenar: Reading the Visual, Legenda (Oxford, England, 2000), pp. 28-30, repr. in b/w as fig. 4

Philip Fisher, "Darkness and the Demand for Time in Art", Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA, 2002), pp. 87-104, pp. 100-101, repr. in b/w as fig. 1

Richard Neer, "Poussin, Titian and Tradition: The Birth of Bacchus and the Genealogy of Images", Word & Image (July 2002-September 2002), vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 267-281, pp. 267-268, repr. as fig. 1

Chikashi Kitazaki, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, Japan, 2002), p. 14, repr. as fig. 6

Philip Hardie, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge University Press (U.K.) (Cambridge, UK, 2002), pp. 360, 363, fig. 17, repr.

Paul Barolsky, "Ovid's Web", Arion, Journal of the Humanities & the Classics, The Trustees of Boston University (Boston, Fall 2003), p. 63, repr. in color as fig.3; text p. 52

Christopher Allen, French Painting in the Golden Age, Thames & Hudson (New York NY, 2003), repr. p. 75 as fig. 56

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 101, repr.

Pierre Rosenberg and Keith Christiansen, ed., Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York, 2008), cat. no. 58, pp. 270-75, repr.

John Varriano, Wine: A Cultural History, Reaktion Books (London, 2010), pp.162-165, repr. p. 163 as fig. 75

Jacques Thuillier, Nicolas Poussin : Les écrits de Jacques Thuillier, ed. Serge Lemoine, Editions FATON (2015), p. 303-304, p. 564, cat. no. 226, repr. p. 303 + 504

Nicolas Milovanovic and Mickäel Szanto, ed., Poussin et Dieu, exh. cat., Hazan (Paris, 2015), pp. 143-44, figs. 102, 109

Exhibition History

A Loan Exhibition of French Painting of the Time of Louis XIIIth and Louis XIVth, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, 05/09/1946 - 06/01/1946

Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965] Given and Bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 11/15/1965 - 01/15/1966; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 12/19/1966 - 02/26/1967

Gods & Heroes: Baroque Images of Antiquity, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 10/29/1968 - 01/04/1969

Dionysos and His Circle: Ancient through Modern, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/10/1979 - 02/10/1980

Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 02/12/2008 - 05/11/2008

Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 2400 French/Italian/Spanish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 01/01/9999

Subjects and Contexts

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