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drawing

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1948,0805.1

  • Description

    The Death of Germanicus; man lying in a bed at centre, with drapery behind, surrounded by figures in classical dress, woman sitting crying and a child beside her at right. c.1626-7 Pen and brown ink, brown and later grey wash, over black chalk

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1626-1627 (circa)
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 183 millimetres
    • Width: 256 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Verso inscribed: "La mort de germanicus"
  • Curator's comments

    A much damaged study for one of Poussin's earliest masterpieces, the 'Death of Germanicus', a painting commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini in October 1626 and paid for in January 1628 and now in the Institute of Arts, Minneapolis (Blunt 1966, no. 156). The picture's subject is taken from Tacitus's 'Annales': the brilliant young general Germanicus, the adopted son of the emperor Tiberius, had been fatally poisoned on the orders of the his stepfather who had grown jealous of his success. Germanicus stoically faces his imminent demise, and on his deathbed commands his wife to bear her loss bravely while asking his comrades to avenge him. The painting was one of most admired and copied works by Poussin, and was a major influence on neo-classicical painters such as J-L. David in the clarity of its composition and the dramatic force of its narrative.

    The BM drawing, which is more easily read through the copy after it in Düsseldorf (illustrated in Rosenberg and Prat fig. 27a, p. 50), must have been preceded by studies formulating the arrangment of the figures as there is no visible change in the pen lines (although this would not preclude alterations in the underdrawing in black chalk which is just visible in certain areas, such as the head of Germanicus). Its purpose seems to have been directed to working out the lighting of the scene from the upper left, the effects worked out through the interaction between wash and the once white, or off white, of the untouched paper (the white bodycolour in the description of Blunt and Friedlander is a fiction). The lighting effects have been dulled by the clumsily applied grey wash with only a few areas of white paper left untouched. In its original state the drawing must have made Poussin aware that the shadowed head of the central figure was the focal point of the composition. He got around this in the painting by raising the soldier's right arm so that his darkened face is obscured, a gesture that also strengthens the drama of his swearing to avenge his general's death. There are are number of other small changes in the arrangement of the figures in the painting, like the raising of Germanicus on his pillows so that he engages with the figures around him. The background architecture to the left was a late change as the x-radiograph of the painting shows that he originally included the figures on the steps shown in the drawing.

    This is one of two drawings that Edmund Schilling presented anonymously to the Museum, the other is the 'Raising of Lazarus': 1948,0815.2.

    Lit.: W. Friedlaender and A. Blunt (eds.), 'The drawings of Nicolas Poussin, catalogue raisonné: History, Romance, Allegories ', London, 1949, II, no. 129, pp. 15-16 pl 102; A. Blunt, 'The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin, a critical catalogue', London, 1966, under no. 156, p. 113; H. Brigstocke, in exhib. cat., Oxford, Ashmolean, 'A loan exhibition of drawings by Nicolas Poussin from British collections', 1990, no. 16; P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, 'Nicolas Poussin, 1594 -1665: catalogue raisonné des dessins', Milan, 1994, no. 27, p. 50 (with previous literature)

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  • Bibliography

    • Friedlaender 1939 129 bibliographic details
    • Rosenberg & Prat 1994 27 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (French Roy XVIIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1988 Sep-Nov, Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Early Poussin in Rome, no. D117 1990/1 Dec-Feb, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Drawings by Poussin, no. 16 1994/5 Sept-Jan, Paris, Grand Palais, 'Poussin' (no cat.)

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1948

  • Acquisition notes

    This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era. See Rosenberg and Prat for questions about the earlier provenance of this drawing.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number

    1948,0805.1

The Death of Germanicus, related by Blunt 156; man lying in a bed at centre, with drapery behind, surrounded by figures in classical dress, woman sitting crying and a child beside her at r. c.1626-7 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

Recto

The Death of Germanicus, related by Blunt 156; man lying in a bed at centre, with drapery behind, surrounded by figures in classical dress, woman sitting crying and a child beside her at r. c.1626-7 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash

Image description

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