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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The Triumph of Pan
XQGE 2004/5 H2H 28
Poussin was the greatest classicising painter of the seventeenth century. He was born in Normandy but travelled to Italy at around the age of thirty and, excepting a short and disaffected return to Paris in 1640-41, he spent the rest of his life in Rome. His paintings were mostly executed for private collectors and are replete with scholarly references; avidly sought after by his countrymen, they were instrumental in the development of classicism in France.
The drawing corresponds in its details, though not in its proportions, with one of a pair of Bacchanals painted for the French Minister of State, Cardinal Richelieu, dispatched from Rome in May 1636 and now in the National Gallery, London. The function of the drawing is, however, puzzling. As the painting was destined for a specific setting, Poussin had surely been provided with its required dimensions - almost square - and such a carefully drawn sheet is not a sketch in which the artist can neglect the proportions of the final piece. The provenance of the sheet also rules out the possibility that this was a model sent to Richelieu for his approval. Perhaps the sheet was a by-product of the commission, drawn for one of Poussin’s erudite friends in Rome; it could then in principle have been executed after the painting, though the richness and fluency of the wash would place it close in date.
The Royal Collection’s holdings of drawings by Poussin are second in number only to those in the Louvre, and are mostly in excellent condition. They came to England in two albums, both probably assembled during the artist’s lifetime. One, which included the Triumph of Pan, was put together by Poussin’s pupil, friend and patron Cardinal Camillo Massimi (1620-77). In 1739, Massimi’s descendants sold the album to Richard Mead, physician to King George II and a notable collector, and Mead sold or (more likely) gave the album to Frederick, Prince of Wales. The second album was described in the Albani library by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1759, and was thus purchased by George III with the Albani collection three years later. The origins of that album are not certain, but it was probably compiled by Poussin’s greatest patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo.
Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection