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Nicholas Poussin

Rapture of the Sabines


Speak to be understood

A French painter who spent most of his career in Italy, Nicolas Poussin is considered one of the masters of classical art of the 17th century, but also one of the most learned artists of his time. His rigorous compositions and his intellectual approach to painting have earned him the reputation of "painter- philosopher", for whom every detail is the fruit of deep reflection. His Abduction of the Sabines , which reflects his interest in Roman legends – his main source of inspiration – also illustrates the intelligence with which his works were conceived.

This painting evokes one of the episodes of the birth of Rome  : the companions of Romulus needing wives to found families and populate their city, they take advantage of a festival to kidnap the women of the neighboring population, the Sabines. Poussin brilliantly describes the violence of the maneuver  and the amazement of the characters in disarray. But what appears to us as generalized chaos actually obeys a 

composition carefully elaborated by the painter, and inspired by the way our eye explores a painting. Poussin knew that we discover a canvas as we read a text: that is to say, at least in the West, from left to right and from top to bottom. In front of this canvas, we therefore begin by looking at the man draped in red in the upper left corner: Romulus raising his hand to indicate to his people - time n°1 - that it is time to take action. Then our gaze follows the diagonal of the image to land on the group in the foreground in the opposite corner: a Roman soldier grabbing a Sabina while a man flees. This is time n°2, that of aggression. Finally, our eyes shift to the left to discover the other figures in the foreground: a Roman carrying a woman and about to carry her out of frame. Time n°3: that of the abduction strictly speaking. In other words, Poussin designed his painting by thinking above all about how we would discover it, in order to increase its narrative dimension.

What we can take away:

The purpose of communication lies not in sending a message, but in receiving it and  his understanding. So rather than trying to show that we know things, let's sincerely try to  make us understand. It is a question of taking into account our interlocutor, the state of his knowledge and the conditions under which the message will be transmitted, to give our words the appropriate form.

Related topic: Communication
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