Van Gogh •
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Nicolas Poussin was born near Les Andelys in Normandy where he began his study of art.
He later went on to Paris, where he worked under minor artists who painted in a style that combined the Mannerism of the Second School of Fountainbleau with certain aspects of Italian baroque art. Poussin went to Rome in 1624 and, with the exception of a brief visit to Paris (1640-42), remained in Italy for the rest of his life. In Italy he devoted himself to the study of antique painting and sculpture and the works of Titian, Raphael, and Comenichino. From these variant elements he evolved a highly personal style, strengthened by close observation of nature. The entire body of his work divides into three main periods. His first period was that of mythological subject matter, rich brushwork and color inspired by Titian, and compositions that stress movement. In his second period, under the influence of Raphael and Domenichino, the composition is statis, the color cool, the brushwork smooth, and the effect statuesque. His final period is a more romantic one, marked by a lyrical gravity of figures and landscape settings, with the compositions laid out in ordered, almost mathematical planes. Poussin's work is best characterized as noble.
His subject matter was literary, taken almost entirely from ancient history or mythology and from the Old and New Testaments. His greatest contribution was his personal, poetic interpretation of antiquity, based upon nature. These idealized motifs are organized into essentially classical carefully constructed compositions with great purity of form. Even at his most lyric, Poussin's rational restraint indicates his spiritual kinship to Cartisian philosophy, Jansenist austerity, and to the moralizing found in the works of Corneille, Racine, and La Fountain. One of the most important of the seventeenth-century artists, Poussin was enormously influential in his native France. It was his particularly intellectual art that the members of the Royal Academy in the eighteenth century contrasted to that of Rubens and that made him a source of inspiration to such serious painters as David and Cezanne.