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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
1942.167
People
Nicolas Poussin, French (Les Andelys, France 1594 - 1665 Rome, Italy)
Title
The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of Nysa; The Death of Echo and Narcissus
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1657
Culture
French
Location
Level 2, Room 2400, European Art, 17th century, Rome and Its Influence in the Seventeenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
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
  • label: verso, on back board, upper right, printed text: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions (2/11/2008 to / 5/11/2008) / Harvard University Art Museums / Nicholas Poussin / The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of Nysa; The Death of / SL.2.2008.9.1 Cat. no.: 058
  • label: verso of frame, lower left, printed text, serrated edges: [black ink:] No. [red ink:] 27 [obscured] / [black ink:] FR / [graphite:] R4 [encircled]
  • label: verso of frame, lower left, printed text, serrated edges: [black ink:] No. [red ink:] 28 [obscured] / [black ink:] FRA [obscured]
  • label: verso of frame, lower left, printed text, serrated edges: [black ink:] No. [red ink:] 50 [obscured] / [black ink:] FRA [obscured]
  • label: verso of frame, upper left, printed text, partially obscured: [obscured text] CHICAGO / [obscured text] ESS" / [obscured text] OF FINE ARTS / [illegible text, brown ink] / [brown ink:] Bacchus / Lender's Name [obscured] [brown ink:] SA [obscured]
  • label: verso, lower left of frame, printed and typewritten text, partially obscured: [printed:] Name of Artist: [obscured ] / [printed:] Name of Painting: [obscured] / [printed:] Owner: [typewritten:] Mrs. [obscured] / [typewritten:] Hotel [obscured] / [printed:] Return to [typewritten:] Fifth [obscured] / [typewritten:] New Y [obscured] / [printed:] Catalogue No. [typewritten:] 55 / [printed:] ART ASSOCIATES, INC. STREET OF WHEELS NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR N Y
  • label: verso of frame, upper center, rectangular with printed text, incomplete: [missing portion] STITUTE OF CHICAG / [missing portion] SHIPPING ROOM / [missing portion] DITION OF CONTENTS / DATE [missing portion] / THE ITEMS CHECKED BE [missing portion] / [missing portion] DAMAGED A [missing portion] / [missing portion] SCULPTURE / [incised] 22 [encircled]
  • label: verso of frame, upper right: [printed:] Réunion des musées nationaux Paris / [stamped:] NICOLAS POUSSIN / [stamped:] Galeries nationales du Grand Palais / [stamped:] 27 septembre - 2 janvier 1995 / [printed:] Titre de l'œuvre: [handwritten, black ink:] La naissance de Bacchus / [printed:] Propriétaire: [handwritten, black ink:] Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum / [printed:] No du Catalogue [handwritten, black ink]: 228
  • inscription: on back of frame, in white chalk:: 6[38?]
Provenance
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, sold [through Christie and Manson, London, June 22, 1833, lot 35]; to Shayer. Montcalm Gallery of Pictures, Montpellier, sold [through Christie and Manson, London, May 5, 1849, lot 137], sold; to Wiggins. Adrian Hope, sold; [through Christie, Manson, and Woods, London, June 30,1894, lot 55]; to Sir A. Hayter, by descent (?); to Lord Haversham (son-in-law of Adrian Hope), by descent; to Lady Haversham, sold [through Christie's, London, April 20, 1923, lot 75]; to [Durlacher Brothers, London], sold; to Samuel Sachs, New York, July 1923, by descent; to Mrs. Samuel Sachs, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1942

Notes

[1] The picture was put up for sale by Erard at Henry, Paris, August 7, 1832, as lot 192 but the lot was bought in.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs in memory of her husband, Samuel Sachs
Accession Year
1942
Object Number
1942.167
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Label Text: Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900 , written 2008
This canvas was commissioned by Poussin's friend and fellow painter Jacques Stella in 1657, but remained incomplete at Stella's death. The work elaborates on themes drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Euripides' Bacchae, Philostratus's Imagines, and later scholarly commentaries to produce a dense allegory of human destiny. Fertility (Bacchus) and sterility (Narcissus and Echo) are contrasted in the context of a profound visual meditation on the character of a specific natural, sacred site-Nysa-in the territory of Thebes in ancient Greece.

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

Catalogue de tableaux italiens, flamands, hollandais et français, des anciennes ecoles, qui composent la magnifique galerie de feu M. le Chevalier Erard, auct. cat. (Paris, August 7, 1832), pp. 199-201, lot 192

A Catalogue of Fifty Capital Pictures the Property of the Late Chevalier Sebastian Erard, Removed from the Château de la Muette, at Passy, auct. cat., Christie and Manson (London, June 22, 1833), p. 11, lot 35

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

Catalogue of the Very Celebrated Montcalm Gallery of Pictures, from Montpellier, auct. cat., Christie and Manson (London, May 4, 1849), p. 29, lot 137

Catalogue of the Renowned Collection of Pictures by Old Masters, formed by the late Adrian Hope, Esq.; also a Few by Modern Artists, auct. cat., Christie, Manson and Woods, Ltd. (London, June 30, 1894), p. 111, lot 55, repr.

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", L'oeil (October 1959), vol. 58, pp. 46-47, repr.

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

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

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665, Toledo Museum of Art, 01/04/1959 - 02/02/1959; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 02/11/1959 - 03/10/1959

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

Baroque Art from the Fogg, Jewett Arts Center, 03/01/1967 - 04/10/1967

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

Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977

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

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 09/27/1994 - 01/02/1995

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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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu