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October 16, 2002

Poussin redux


Your posting on Poussin reminded me of an observation by Delacroix (who was an extremely intelligent art critic.) Delacroix proposes a dichotomy between the way Classical Greeks and the Rennaissance Italians perceived and communicated form. He points out that the Greeks perceived complex forms (e.g., nude people) as a series of overlapping geometric volumes, like those of an amphora.

One Amphora: a Vase

Because of the underlying geometry of each of these volumes, we can perceive not only the shape of each amphora “unit” but also its orientation, the “tilt” of its central axis.

Many Amphorae: A Greek Torso, 5th Century B.C.

In contradistinction, the Italians of the early Renaissance grasped a form by its surface planes or its contour lines. Note the harsh planes and angular, chopped outlines of Antonio Pollaiuolo's Hercules and Antaeus of 1470:

No Amphora Here

On the basis of this dichotomy, Delacroix claimed that from an examination of Poussin’s drawings that the French Baroque artist’s sense of form was Greek rather than Italian—that Poussin felt objects by their centers and not by their edges.

Poussin's Acis and Galatea: Obviously Greek

I just knew you couldn’t sleep at night without this information.

Cheers and sweet dreams,


P.S. I couldn't resist tossing in Poussin’s self-portrait; it’s one of my favorite all-time paintings. Enjoy.

Poussin's 1650 Self Portrait

posted by Friedrich at October 16, 2002


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