NICOLAS POUSSIN • ARCHAEOLOGIST? ROSICRUCIAN? GUARDIAN OF A GREAT SECRET?
NICOLAS POUSSIN • ARCHAEOLOGIST? ROSICRUCIAN? GUARDIAN OF A GREAT SECRET?
On the circumstantial evidence that Poussin is linked to a secret of the Razes...
Nicolas Poussin is a 'giant' in the art world. As far back as 1662 R. Fréart de Chambray described him as '...the most accomplished and the most perfect painter of all moderns'. Since then Poussin has been studied extensively - during his lifetime and through to our modern times. His many letters have been dissected by art critics and attempts have been made to decode his art work for it is pretty much accepted by these art critics that Poussin did paint in 'code'. Poussin himself said his paintings had a definite and secret import when he suggested that “ …these things (the meaning in his paintings) I believe, will not displease those people who know how to read them”. Art scholar Judith Bernstock said that to ‘receive Poussin’s paintings …..one must study them continually and closely, always searching them for connections’. Bernini once said, while pointing to his own head, that "Poussin was an artist who works up here' (i.e. with his brain) and Bernini further asserted that he was 'a great storyteller’.
Poussin had indicated that the meaning's in his paintings could be discerned by those who knew how to read them. By this he meant that his patrons or others were able to interpret the canvases, in other words, those who were initiated. His statement do not necessarily imply that all of the paintings he executed had 'hidden' message but perhaps only a chosen few. But which ones? Can we shed some light on the modern conspiracy that he is linked to today, that of the Rennes-le-Château affair? If Bernini thinks Poussin was a great storyteller is it up to us to find that 'story'? Could it really involve Rennes-Le-Château? There is no direct evidence of a secret pertaining to Poussin and Rennes-le-Château but there is most certainly circumstantial evidence which suggests it!
Rennes-le-Château - a secret of import?
Poussin's most famous painting is the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ although it is not all together clear why this should be the case. Out of all the paintings he created why is this one so famous? For researchers interested in the mystery of Rennes-le-Château Poussin has been identified as ‘holding the key’ to the whole enigma and that somehow this ‘key’ is associated with the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ painting. However as far as i am aware these connections were only suggested as late as the early 1970's! (i.e from the Pierre Plantard camp. A quote by Plantard on this issue was the following: "...the question then is not whether Poussin actually came and painted the landscape of Rennes-le-Chateau - but whether in his painting 'Shepherds of Arcadia' a secret pertaining to Rennes-le-Chateau was being concealed". This posits a slightly different angle on the issue. It suggests that - for Plantard et al - the painting independently carries something of interest that was/is linked to Rennes-le-Chateau!)
Much is made of a ‘mission’ entrusted to Louis Fouquet by his brother Nicolas Fouquet. Nicolas was the then Superintendent of Finances in France until 1661 under King Louis XIVth. Louis Fouquet, by contrast, his younger brother was the Bishop of Agde as well as chaplain to the king. He had previously been the abbé of Saint Martin of Autun, Jard, Ham and Vezeley. He attended the Jesuits Clermont College and he also knew St Vincent de Paul (who figures in Priory of Sion mythology claiming that Vincent knew the Hautpoul family). Louis gained a doctorate from the Faculty of Orleans and became a member of the Order of the Holy Spirt (see below).
Nicolas sent Louis to Italy to make contact with Poussin. Poussin had by then been living in Rome for some time and was 62 years of age. Apparently Fouquet had wanted some information from Poussin and had written back to his brother a famous letter on 17th April, 1656 - Louis writes that they (Louis and Poussin) had discussed 'certain’ things of which ‘no person in the world may rediscoverin the centuries to come’ & moreover ‘that these things are hard to search for ….’. The fact that Nicolas Fouquet 'sent' his brother on a mission to Poussin indicates that Nicolas already knew of a secret and/or that he knew Poussin had certain information about a secret. How is it then that a lowly painter, however well regarded, knew more about something than the Superintendant of Finances, who was himself well connected and friends with the same people as Poussin?
We may ask if Nicolas Fouquet was already aware of certain information, how did he know of this 'secret'- the same 'secret' that Poussin possessed? From their courtly circle of friends? From the King? From archives they had read?
Another important question is why was it such a secret anyway? Who did it compromise? We should be interested in the terminology of the private letter which says: ‘no person in the world may rediscover (it) in the centuries to come’. What had Poussin and his ‘informers’ ‘rediscovered’? Something which was buried and hidden? Was this information previously known to some? No researcher has satisfactorily come up with a plausible explanation for these references in the Fouquet letter. Various authors in the Rennes-le-Chateau genre have assumed that these ‘secret things’ pertain to the ‘key’ that Poussin held and which could reveal the mystery of the painting cited above. However this painting has never been linked in the sources to these mysterious discussions of Poussin and the Fouquets.
Professor Jacques Thuillier, a respected scholar of Nicolas Poussin, found the letter extremely intriguing. He asked: ‘to what mysterious project… to what marvellous enterprise were Poussin and Louis Fouquet discussing.... (the) project poses the strangest enigma’. The publication of this letter was by Lepinois and Montaiglon in 1862 and they went on to discuss a hypotheses of ‘great archaeological investigations, possibly in Rome’. But Lepinois and Montaiglon profess that this ‘great archaeological invesitgation’ could just as well have been in France. They speculate that a site could already have been clandestinely excavated and that the results of these excavations could have been given to Poussin. What an intriguing hypotheses by Lepinois and Montaiglon. They seem rather specific dont they? As if they already knew the Fouquet letter did refer exactly to a site 'already clandestinely excavated'! And what site was being clandestinely excavated or more appropriately termed - looted? Even if this scenario is correct why was it all so secret? What would be so special about an archaeological site - unless the riches and tomb-robbing was on such a scale that it became a monumental secret?
Lepinois and Montaiglon go on to conjecture that Poussin ‘marked’ this exceptional site of which he had obtained the ‘secret’ of. But Lepinois and Montaiglon do not specify how Poussin would have marked this ‘great archaeological site’. Are we to assume that as Poussin was a famous painter he might have ‘marked’ this site via a painting he created? It would seem to suit the way Poussin liked to work - measuring ancient monuments to replicate in his paintings etc and generally being very scientifically precise! Even given this - why would Lepinois and Montaiglon out of nowhere come up with the theory of a looted archaeological site? Perhaps they did so because of the very language that Fouquet used in that famous letter. Language such as ‘these things are difficult to discover, ... it was possible that these things would never be discovered, and ....these things were very hard to search for!’ Louis however adds that if one did find these things one would become ‘rich and powerful’.
Even in 2007 I can understand why an archaeological site could make you rich perhaps - but not powerful. After all todays great archaeological finds are made and the finders get rich but never 'powerful'. Naturally we might assume that something which was hard to find, or search for, implied that it was was well hidden and well concealed. Perhaps in a deep cavern or some such hiding place? We might assume that if found and could make you rich it might be a treasure of some sort, indeed, as Lepinois and Montaiglon speculate, an archaeological treasure.
Some researchers have taken this scenario one step further - suggesting that the 'clandestine' excavations were of the buried ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which, from contemporary archival evidence shows that various individuals had identified the placement of these invisible lost cities from ancient maps/documents in their possession. Archaeological evidence at the time was also turning up - for example - when Emmanuel Maurice, Duke of Elbeuf - the youngest son of Charles de Lorraine, discovered the ruins at Herculaneum. He was a member of the House of Guise founded by Claude, Duke of Guise, making him a male line descendant of René II, Duke of Lorraine [see below]. These excavations at Heculaneum began in 1711, when a well was being dug for the new country house of Emmanuel Maurice, at Portici. The well turned out to have been sunk into the buried and richly ornamented proscenium of the theater of Herculaneum, and yielded several valuable marbles, including a statue of Hercules. Prince d'Elbeuf purchased the land and proceeded to tunnel out from the bottom of the well, collecting any statues he could find. Among the earliest statues recovered were two superbly sculpted Herculaneum Women [now in the Dresden Skulpturensammlung].The duke was extremely short of money so he smuggled pieces to Rome to be restored, and then "gave" them to Prince Eugene of Savoy, his cousin. In 1738 Charles VII of Naples − after 1759, Charles III of Spain − began excavations to find objects for his own private collection of antiquities, imposing tight security on the site. Interest was maintained by the hope of finding more objects of similar value to the first set of statues.
As you can see once the town was found it was plundered and effectively what took place was robbery of the site - and some researchers suggest this is what Poussin and Fouquet were referring to. The explanation that this secret project of Poussin and Fouquet '... would make you rich' is explained as gaining the favour of the King of France who loved antiquities and who presumably would pay well for any pillaged artefact. However this theory, im my opinion, would not explain the famous line in the letter - " [We] discussed certain things of which i shall be able to inform you fully in a short while which will give you, through M. Poussin benefits, which kings would have great trouble extracting from him....". It hardly fits that the king of France would pay handsomely for antiquities if that same king couldn't even extract from the painter the knowledge that the antiquities he was buying were from Pompeii - a hidden archaeological site which was actually being plundered. And are we to really believe the King of France would not even already know? If the king didn't know are we to believe only Poussin and/or the Fouquets knew of this? We see above others certainly did know of this pillaging - so it is hardly a 'secret' pertaining only to Poussin and the Fouquets!
Of further interest in the Lepinois and Montaiglon letter is the line - 'and which after him perhaps no one in the world will rediscover in the centuries to come.' Doesnt this smack of a 'secret' only held by Poussin? Why, after Poussin, would nobody else be able to rediscover it in the centuries to come? It suggests that something Poussin knew was the key to the whole enigma. Doesnt it suggest something that Poussin may have created and encoded? The line however used the word 'perhaps' so maybe i am being over-optimistic that this 'secret' can only be found using Poussin! However, in the context of a looted archaeological site it cannot be clandestine excavations of Pompey or Herculaneum because we have already seen evidence that other people knew about this site at the time! The rest of the letter says - 'and moreover this will be without great expense and could even be turned to profit and that these things are so hard to discover that nothing on earth can have greater value nor be their equal". This sentence indeed is much more intriguing. Digging for archaeology would be expensive [as it is today] but there seems to be some doubt about whether the activity 'could be turned to profit' .... which contradicts any idea of getting rich from the selling off of antiquities because a King of France who 'loved antiquities' and would pay handsomely for them! If you were selling them to the King of France it would be definite that you would make money. Again it is reiterated that whatever it is nothing 'on Earth' can have greater value nor be of 'their equal'. Their equal? In the plural? Whatever is meant by the 'nothing on Earth can have greater value' statement? As Lepinois and Montaiglon stated the whole affair - 'poses the strangest enigma...'
After this letter had been written some historians allege that Nicolas Fouquet was incarcerated by the king of France. Fouquet therefore becomes a candidate for the so called Man in the Iron Mask. So, whatever the secret dealings that Poussin and the Fouquets had going on - the King of France was not privy to all of it - as indeed Louis Fouquet had confirmed when he stated that 'kings would have great trouble extracting from him'. The king went so far as to obtain the rest of Fouquet's private correspondence and read through them with a fine tooth comb. What was he looking for? If, as we surmise, the King would have known about clandestine looting of archaeological sites from other sources then he wouldnt be looking for evidence of this in the Fouquet correspondence, would he?
Nicolas Fouquet was arrested and charged with 'embezzlement' of Government finances and rather strangely also 'sedition'. Sedition is defined as the 'incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government' which means that the powers that be thought Nicolas Fouquet was inciting rebellion against a Government of which he was a member of. This perhaps is interesting because of Fouquet's connection with the Compagnie du Sainte-Sacrement (his mother was a prominent member and so was his brother, Francois, Archbishop of Narbonne who may have known Poussin in his early years). Saint-Sacrement had other influential members such as Olier, Nicolas Pavillon [both of Saint Sulpice fame] and Vincent de Paul - names which continually crop up and are linked to the affair of Rennes-le-Chateau in enigmatic ways. This Saint-Sacrement was a Catholic group set up in 1628 by Henri de Levis - its not clear what their remit was but some historians claim that it was to support the claims to the throne of France of the Bourbon dynasty. Internal evidence from files relating to the 'secret society' also suggest the whole group revolved around an 'incredible secret'.
There is an archaeological mystery attached to the history of France and in fact to a particular area of France. This of course is the traditional legends which say that the ancient Visigoths of the region [Septimania] hid an important archaeological treasure there. Now, in this legend, we should clearly delineate the two specific kingdoms of these Visigoths. The first is the Toulousian Kingdom, from 418 to 507. The Visigoths at this time are Roman foederati settled in the Aquitania province, with their capital in Toulouse. They served with high fidelity to Rome and acted as a police force in Iberia. Moreover, they performed with stellar action in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. After the fall of the Roman Empire they remained as owners of Southern Gaul and most of Iberia. But the Franks later defeated them in Vouillé, 507. The second 'kingdom' is that of Hispanian Kingdom, 554-711: this is when the Visigoths resettled in Iberia, they unified most, if not all of the Peninsula by fighting the Suevi, Byzantines and Basques.
For our purposes here it is the orignal and first Visigothic kingdom we are interested in. These are the Visigoths closest to the treasure of Alaric, and it also involves the Sarmatians and their linguistic cousins the Alans, who were also alleged to have obtained the treasure and in fact one can trace Alanic families all the way up to the 1200's via unbroken family lines that 'controlled both the nobility and the church' from the fifth century Alanic invasions of Gaul until the 12th century when the line culminates in Philip of Alsace, who just happened to write about the Grail romances which appear in manuscripts. This family held Albi right up until the 12th century [with the town being central to the Albigensian Crusade]. In all that time the Merovingians also paid these Alanic families remarkable deference [until the Merovingians gave way to the Carolingians that is]. During the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, these Cathars were rumoured to posess the Holy Grail, or a magnificent treasure, which indeed scholars have suggested is just a conflation of the legends of Athaulfs treasure, Athualf being the Visigoth who took posession of Alarics treasure after Alaric died in 410. [I discuss the traditions of the Visigothic treasure and its association with France HERE].
May it have been information about the legends of the first kingdom of the Visigoths that Poussin imparted to Nicolas Fouquet through his brother Louis? A leap of imagination i know but what if? If Lepinois and Montaiglon conjecture that Poussin ‘marked’ an exceptional site of which he had obtained the ‘secret’ of, and it was archaeological in nature, how about that it could just as well be an ancient site in France? Just as Lepinois and Montaiglon speculate on? Now this really would be a 'great secret'! As Pierre Plantard suggested in relation to Poussin - in his painting 'Shepherds of Arcadia' [there was] a secret pertaining to Rennes-le-Chateau ....being concealed". As will be seen below - figures associated with Poussin did have strong links to the environs of Rennes-le-Chateau.
Some authors have suggested that King Louis XIVth made a determined search to gain Poussin's ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. Once he obtained it he sequestered the painting in his own private apartments and would not allow anyone else to see it. This has led to the conclusion that it must be this painting being implicated in the mysterious intrigues of Poussin and the Fouquets. However as Louis XIVth obtained other paintings by Poussin (such as his ‘Judgement of Solomon’) this might suggest there was nothing mysterious about these activities of Louis XIVth. However, it is still interesting that Louis XIVth went out of his way to obtain this canvas. Is there anything else which may signify that Poussin held ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ important in some way? Perhaps it is indicated in the way that Poussin specified that this painting was to be represented at his last resting place. His mausoleum in Rome does carry a copy of the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. Might we ask, out of all his created works, why was it that this one was used for this purpose? Perhaps the phrase 'et in arcadia ego..' was meant to resonate with those who viewed his last resting place?
Poussin also had as his personal seal a phrase which implied secrecy and a picture of an ‘ark’. We will see below that Poussin used the ‘punning’ form of language and therefore even his seal might reveal something of the nature of a secret held by him. The ‘Et in Arcadia Ego…’ phrase in Shepherds of Arcadia may also carry some specific significance. Poussin's interest in language and the phonetic sounds of words suggests the motto is not meant to be translated literally but phonetically, which is very Boudesque! [Henri Boudet, a local priest of the Rennes-les-Bains, sister village of Rennes-le-Chateau - wrote a bizarre book on the phonetic language in the area of the Razes to inform his readers of an important tomb in the area: i.e an arcaheological site!]. Not only does the painting itself carry a possible representation of an area in France the phonetics of its title also suggest the same area and this area also carries a great ‘tradition’ of an archaeological ‘secret’. It has traditions of clandestine excavations carried out some few hundred years before Poussin lived. Surely this is not coincidence? Does the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ and Poussin hold a key that is associated with the country of Arques, that is, the area surrounding Rennes-le-Château?
Poussin‘s early years
Nicolas Poussin lived in an age that encompassed huge political upheavals and intrigues. There was a major ‘reformation of the arts and sciences’ being instigated in Europe especially France and England. Imagery that both these countries used was that of ‘Arcadia’. Poussin also lived during the birth of the Rosicrucians - a group who were trying to instigate the same reformations and he probably sympathised in some way with their objectives. Poussin can be connected closely with these Rosicrucians in the friendships that he maintained.
Nicolas was born in the Normandy town of Villers-en-Vexin in 1594, where he spent his childhood on his father's farm near the village of Les Andelys. He came from a noble family that had been ruined by the religious wars of the sixteenth century (according to Giovanni Pietro Bellori). His father had served in the military under the command of Charles IX, Henry III and Henry IV - and the position's he held within the Kings army are alleged to have been very senior. Charles IX and Henry of Navarre were involved deeply in the Wars of Religion - a war that was "primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestant (Huguenots). The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and the House of Guise (Loraine), and both sides received assistance from foreign sources". After the battle of Ivry on March 14th, 1590, the town of Vernon, as well as other towns in Normandy, opened its gates to the victorious royal army and among the officers left behind was Jean Poussin, father of Nicolas. While garrisoned at Vernon Jean met and married Marie Delaisement, widow of Claude Lemoine, a procurator of that town. Jean moved, in 1592, to Villers, Marie Delaisement's birthplace. When his service in the war had ended he returned home to take up a small holding at Villers and led the life of a peasent.
The ancestors of the Poussin family originally came from Maine. In the sixteenth century various branches of the family were found in the Soissonais and Normandy. The original ancestral home was thought to be the seigniory of Juigne on the Sarthe near Sable. Gervais Poussin was its first noted lord and he lived about 1280. Those who followed him were also renowned soldiers and councillors of the king at their respective times. Some of the geneaologies are constructed thus: Gervais Poussin, Lord of Juigné who maried Marie / Macee, dame de Souligné, daughter of John of Neuvillette and a granddaughter of Jean, Viscount of Beaumont. Their children seem to have included a Pierre Poussin who married Jeanne, dame de La Chartre et de Marçon and they had no children: also Thiéphaine Poussin, dame de Juigné (who married Nicolas Lessillé). Their descendants included Jean Lessillé, seigneur de Juigné who married Catherine la Gallière. There are also records suggesting that a Nicolas Le Clerc married Marie Poussin and through this marriage the Le Clerc family became allied to the noble families of Craon, de Flandre, de Beaumont-le-Clerc, de Plessis-Baudouin etc. It is not stipulated why Marie Poussin should be such a lady of great extraction.
In his youth Poussin studied both Latin and letters. He left his home in Les Andelys and traveled to the provincial capital town of Rouen. Once in Rouen he studied for several years under Noel Jouvenet who lived there at the time. Associated in the area at this time is one Francois de Joyeuse, the second son of Guillaume de Joyeuse and Marie Eléanor de Batarnay. His ancestors included Anne de Joyeuse (1560-1587) who was Seigneur d'Arques, later Vicomte de Joyeuse, then Duc de Joyeuse (1581) and a Peer of France/Admiral of France. The family were associated with many areas connected to the Rennes-le-Chateau affair including the villages of Arques, Couiza and Alet.
Francois de Joyeuse himself had been made Arrchbishop of Narbonne on 20 October 1581, a cardinal on 12 December 1583, Archbishop of Toulouse on 4 November 1588, and Archbishop of Rouen on 1 December 1604. He was also a knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit. (The Order of the Holy Spirit was created in 1578 by Henri III. This order had originally been created to rival the Order of the Golden Fleece and to help ensure that leading French nobles remained loyal to the Crown). Some of the members of the Order of the Holy Spirit have links to the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery.
On 16 February 1587 Francois was also appointed by Henry III as French minister to the Holy See - he returned to France after King Henry's murder in 1589 and joined the Catholic League. However, he broke with the League in 1593 to support Henry of Navarre (King Henry IV of France) and we must see here that Nicolas Poussin's father is reckoned to have held high ranking service for these same Kings. Francois and Poussin may therefore have had alot in common and must have been aware of each other while in Rouen. Francois negotiated the annulment of King Henry's marriage to Marguerite de Valois, opening the way for a second marriage to Marie de Medici. Nicolas Poussin is also later linked with Marie de Medici and Poussin would have frequented her courtly circle.
Based on advice and encouragement given by his first teacher Quentin Varin, a painter whom Poussin had met when Varin visited Les Andelys, Poussin decided to leave for Paris in 1612 to study architecture, anatomy and works by old masters. The following 10 years then became essentially Poussin's apprenticeship. These events of Poussin’s early life are sketchy & the most we know about them are as follows:
• 1594 Born in Les Andelys
• 1612 Meets Quentin Varin in Les Andelys
• 1612 Studies at possible Jesuit college in Rouen
• 1613 Travels to Paris with a ‘young lord’. This young lord seems to have been Henry Avice.
• 1614 Early teachers are Lallemont & Ferdinand Elle. He meets Alexandre Courtois.
• 1614 He travels to Poitou with the ‘young lord’. Lives in his Chateau.
• 1615 Returns to Les Andelys
• 1616 Returns to Paris and the provinces
• 1617 In Paris, and then travels to Blois, and then Florence.
• 1618 In Paris and/or Florence.
• 1619 He lives in Lyon.
• 1620 Travels back to Paris for Jesuit commissions and College at Laon. He meets Marino.
• 1623 Stays at the Luxembourg Palace and carries out commissions. ? Goes to Venice.
• 1624 In April of this year he travels to Rome.
Within these events there are many enigmas concerning Poussin’s early life. His early teachers were Lallemant and then Ferdinand Elle (who was established at St Germain-des-Pres in Paris in 1609). He had also met Alexandre Courtois who was a ‘gentleman in waiting’ of Marie de Medici. Marie was living in the Louvre in Paris. Courtois later became ‘Keeper’ of Ann of Austria’s art and literary collections. Through Courtois Poussin had access to all these archives [this must have been an extraordinary resource for inspiration as well as information!] and he was introduced to the Queen Mother and court life. Poussin around this time also became good friends with a young lord who has never been positively identified but speculation suggests that the Lord was Henry Avice. Henry Avice - for some - was the patron who commissioned the 'Shepherds of Arcadia'. Poussin also met the painter Pourbus whom Poussin considered had painted ‘one of the most beautiful pictures I have seen’. This was Pourbus’s painting of the ‘Last Supper’. (see below).
Above: Pourbus, Last Supper. Below: Guercino ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas When the Queen Mother was exiled to Blois (between 1617 - 1619) Poussin may have followed her and her entourage to Blois. He painted various commissions at this time including the pavilion at Chiverny. There is a suggestion that Marie de Medici entrusted to the young painter a secret mission to her uncle the Grand Duke of Florence. The reason for this ‘mission’ has never been divulged. It was never discussed by Poussin during his whole life time. He did not even disclose it to his biographers.
The Grand Duke of Florence/Tuscany was Cosimo II de Medici. He had commissioned from Guercino the painting called ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas’ in 1618. It is evident from this painting (see above) that Guercino’s later painting ‘Et in arcadia ego’ (1618) was a study from his ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas’ canvas. The painting was mentioned for the first time in the collection of Antonio Barberini in 1644. How did Guercino come to be painting the famous motto ’Et in arcadia ego…’? After all, Poussin did not paint his ‘Et in arcadia ego…’ until 1637–1638 although of course the earlier Chatsworth version of this painting was executed in 1627. Guercino had access to this motto in around 1618 and it is arguably the motto that ’makes’ the painting. Guercino was using the motto a full nine years before Poussin! Was it through the influence of Cosimo de Medici? This does not sound so far fetched. We know that Lorenzo de Medici (1449 –1492), a relative of Cosimo had, in his lifetime, actually set up a group called the 'Shepherds of Arcadia'. It included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti - who were involved in the 15th century Renaissance. Although he did not commission many works himself, he helped them secure commissions from other patrons. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for five years, dining at the family table and attending meetings of the Neo-Platonic Academy.
Guercino himself was born at Cento, a village between Bologna and Ferrara. By 1615 he had moved to Bologna where his work earned the praise of an elder Ludovico Carracci. Ludovico Carracci was an Italian early-Baroque painter and in 1585 was a founder and director the Eclectic Academy of painting (also called the Accademia degli Incamminati), which in reality was a studio with apprenticed assistants. This studio propelled a number of artists to pre-eminance in Rome and elsewhere and helped encourage the so-called Bolognese School of the late 16th century which included Albani, Guercino, Sacchi, Reni, Lanfranco and Domenichino. The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia ego) that was painted by Guercino in 1618 was contemporary with The Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo in Palazzo Pitti. Cosimo II de Medici had commissioned this Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo, so perhaps he also commissioned the ‘Arcadian Shepherds’ from Guercino?
Poussin’s good friend Marino was also patronised by Cosimo II de Medici. Cosimo came from a junior line of the Medici family. This family and their artistic connections go even further. Cosimo II was the son of Christina of Lorraine . Through Charles III of Lorraine Christina was descended from René II of Anjou, who was the Count of Vaudémont from 1470, Duke of Lorraine from 1473, and Duke of Bar from 1483 to 1508. He claimed the crown of the Kingdom of Naples and the County of Provence as the Duke of Calabria 1480–1493 and as King of Naples and Jerusalem 1493–1508. His maternal grandfather was the very famous René I of Anjou. It is to him that we trace the first concept of 'Arcadia' in its modern form. It was René who 'broke the monopoly on the ownership and dissemination of thinking. This feat began a program for the advancement of knowledge which changed the course of history right up until the present day. Rene, criticised, even threatened by elitists for selling thinking, started the phenomenon we now call the Renaissance. Using his numerous Italian possessions as a base of operations, Rene spent many years in Italy and became the greatest thinking salesman of all time. He inspired sponsorship from the ruling Sforza family of Milan and his friend Cosimo de Medici and he got them to send their agents all over the world in quest of ancient manuscripts. As a result, in 1444, Cosimo opened Europe's first public library! The Library of San Marco now made available, for the first time, the thinking and ideas that had been suppressed for centuries. Translations of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Pythagorea, Gnostic and Hermetic thought were now readily accessible at last. This first public library burst apart the thinking cartel of the Dark Ages'!
Back in his own court, Rene d'Anjou, the prime mover in all this, was leading by his own example. Tolerant and open to a plurality of thinking styles, he was steeped in esoteric tradition. His court included a wise Jewish astrologer, Cabalist and physician known as Jean de Saint-Remy who was the grandfather of Nostradamus. Also, for some time, Rene employed the great Italian Admiral, Christopher Columbus. It is of interest that both of Nostradamus' Grandfathers were Court physicians to King Rene along with the father of Leonardo Da Vinci. The origins of the ‘Arcadia’ theme that Western culture adopted and to which Poussin was an heir in the later Middle Ages can be traced back to Rene D’Anjou. This Arcadian theme of his included an underground stream and a tomb that connoted aspects of a ‘secret tradition’ or elements of a ‘secret knowledge’. And this ‘Arcadian’ theme was promulgated by artists throughout the Renaissance and beyond. One wonders then if Rene D’Anjou was indeed the source of the Arcadian theme, was he also the originator of that enigmatic phrase of Et in Arcadia Ego? We know he composed mottos!
Recent research by Oliviero (see elsewhere on this site) has suggested that the enigmatic phrase on the tombs painted by Guercino and Poussin may actually mean: “ I am also in the divine tomb” or “also I am in the divine tomb”. He went on to say:
“The translation can even be improved (by) using the past tense for the verb to be, as the sense seems to suggest. The sentence then becomes “Et in Arcadia ego (fui)”: Also I was in the divine tomb. As a matter of fact, the word “fui” (I was) is composed of three letters and can perfectly fit the three dots (if we think of them as markers for lacking letters) Pierre Plantard talked about. The sentence could, in this way, represent a marker to recognize “those who know the secret”, as a kind of sect or elite group, who had the privilege to go inside the “divine tomb”(whatever it could be) because the clear meaning of the motto is “I also am one of those who entered the divine tomb”.
It is of interest that a motto painted on to a tomb painted by Guercino and later Poussin may reveal something about a divine tomb, when some feel the Poussin painting is connected to Rennes-le-Chateau because, of course, long before Sauniere, Boudet had published a book about a divine tomb. Divine because this tomb he associated with the Resurrection!
King Rene is known to have excavated for a tomb (though not specifically a ‘divine’ tomb). He devoted his talent to decoration: painting emblems, arms, mottos, hunting scenes and rustic scenes and he spoke Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian and Catalan. He played and composed music, wrote poems, was interested in theology, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. He was also particularly interested in geography and in the law. Were all his interests and activities correlated in some way?
Some 100 years after Rene the idea of Arcadia appeared again with the work of the poet Sannazaro. It was also picked up by Sir Philip Sydney – a hugely popular figure of Tudor England. Sir Philip Sidney was closely related and/or friends with Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon promulgated the imagery of Arcadia as did his friend John Dee. It’s interesting to note that Bacon et al used the imagery in exactly the same way as Rene of Anjou. This was the linking of the Grail Mythology and the legends of King Arthur. To both – genealogies seemed to play an important role. The importance of genealogies was related to the fact that in the minds of these people both England and France were a ‘chosen people’ and that the lands of these countries were a holy land. They both claimed descent from Troy and the Trojans and therefore hence the Romans. The Kings and Queens of these countries demonstrated a ‘sacred kingship’ and their descent went back to kings who had also possessed ‘divine right’ to rule. As well as having the ‘divine right’ to rule the French monarchy adhered to the legends that France contained the ancient tribes of Israel (as does Britain). They claimed descent from Francus of Troy, and that Troy, the great city of the Trojans, according to some Greek historians, was founded by the Arcadians. The French king also claimed descent from the Sicambrians, that is, the Merovingian priest kings.
Did Rene of Anjou have some information then about a secret of France? Or a secret about his bloodline? Is this why he was interested in genealogies? Is this why he was also interested in the Holy Grail? Why would he instigate an Arcadian theme? Perhaps the arcadia motto used by artists was really, as Oliviero, nothing to do with any geographical arcadia, but a specific piece of knowledge? It is known that Rene was a latter day archaeologist, searching for the real tomb of Mary Magdalene or perhaps her companions on any legendary boat crossing to France. We know an ancestor of Rene's did actually claim to have found the sepulchre of Mary Magdalene. She was the extra special revered Saint of this dynasty. Perhaps Rene find something else and this is the origin of all the symbolism to be found associated with Arcadia, tombs and secret knowledge?
It does seem to suggest a coherent picture when we realise that the de Joyeuse family who owned land at Arques and elsewhere in the vicinity of Rennes le Château. Henrietta de Joyeuse's husband Charles de Lorraine was a descendant of Rene de Anjou and as we have seen, it is Rene who expounded the early modern concept of Arcadia. Poussin is linked to these people, because between 1638 and 1642, he had as his most leading patrons those of Richelieu and Sublet de Noyers. These two patrons repeatedly came to the defence of Henrietta de Joyeuse in her family struggles with the Crown. Bernstock even suggests that Poussin received his ideas regarding the iconography of the Shepherds of Arcadia via Chantelou’s (a great friend of Poussin) cousin, Sublet de Noyers. This Sublet de Noyers was also a protector of Poussin in Paris. Poussin corresponded with Sublet and Sublet was in regular correspondence with Henriette-Catherine de Joyeuse. The so called 'Poussin Tomb' linked to the affair of Rennes-le-Chateau is also known as the Tomb at Arques - a tomb alleged to have been present for Poussin to paint when he visited the area. Recent research shows however that the tomb in Arques appeared only very recently - strangely during the time of Berenger Sauniere. It is not known if any prior tomb or marker had been present at the same site in the preceding centuries.
After that secret mission of Poussin on behalf of Marie de Medici he seems to have followed this by decorating parts of the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. The contract is still extant, signed by all parties including Marie de Medici. It is dated 15th April 1621. Poussin had travelled back from Lyon to carry out these commissions. For our purposes here the Poussin years in Lyon are intriguing. Just what was Poussin doing here and what did he learn in that three years? He certainly met Marino, the court poet to Marie de Medici at Lyon. Who else did he meet? You may be fascinated to know that Jean-Jacques Olier was also living in Lyon at the same time - because from the years 1617-1624 Olier was educated by the Jesuits in Lyon. Given the connections with the parchments of Cherisey (see below) this indeed may be an interesting observation. As we also see below Poussin could have know St Vincent de Paul, a man whom Olier certainly looked up to and who had connections with Notre Dame de Marceille and who may have known Poussin in Normandy.
By the 1620s Poussin had acquired good artistic skills and he was eager to develop further. The most important factor for the artist's future was probably his meeting in 1622 or 1623 with the Marino. The Italian poet became a close friend to Poussin and it was under his protection that Poussin painted and studied, for example, mythological literature. Marino also commissioned a set of drawings depicting subjects from Ovid's Metamorphoses. As Marino already knew Guercino, Poussin may have learnt of the ‘Et in arcadia…’ motto from this source. Marino must have been a profound influence on Poussin. He was an Italian poet who was born in Naples. He is most famous for his long epic L'Adone. The Cambridge History of Italian Literature thought him to be "one of the greatest Italian poets of all time". He is considered the founder of the school of Marinism characterised by its use of extravagant and excessive conceits. Marino's conception of poetry was based "on an extensive use of antithesis and a whole range of wordplay, on lavish descriptions and a sensuous musicality of the verse, and he enjoyed immense descriptions and a sensuous musicality of the verse, and he enjoyed immense success in his time". From him Poussin could have learnt about the idea of a punning language.
In 1623 Marino returned to Rome but before leaving Paris he persuaded Poussin to also travel to Rome. The artist arrived in Rome in 1624 and Marino introduced Poussin to the Roman literati circle of Rome centred around Cassiano dal Pozzo.
In 1627 Poussin had painted the Chatsworth version of ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’. This painting is usually paired up with another of Poussin's paintings – that of ‘Midas Bathing in the River Pactolus’. It was Cardinal Camillo Massimo who ordered these two paintings from Poussin. Both are often said to 'encode' a meaning that relates to Rennes-le-Château. We know from a drawing made by Poussin circa 1630 that the artist and Camillo were acquatinted since on the drawing it is written that Poussin personally gave the drawing to Camillo.
Above Rene d'Anjou's painting of the Arcadian Theme - complete with tomb and 'undergound stream' (elements found in Poussin's 'Shepherds of Arcadia')
About 10 years after the Chatsworth ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ Poussin then painted the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. Both of these paintings then were completed when Poussin was living in Rome. No pen and ink drawings or sketches of these paintings are known to exist. I have looked for them hoping that they might help us to understand better the finished paintings. As it is we have to assume that Poussin had had his subject matter for these paintings before he left for Italy. It is, of course, possible that the ‘ideas’ of the paintings could have been given by his Italian patrons. However, Poussin had just as many French patrons who may have commissioned them. In fact, I would posit that the general imagery inherent in these paintings were already powerfully assimilated in the French and English cultures, perhaps more so than in Italy at this particular time. And yet some researches suggest that the actual commissions came from members of the clergy and Popes. If the paintings do encode a secret pertaining to France why is it that clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are commissioning the paintings? Does this mean that the clergy know of the 'secret import', or did Poussin simply independently encode the mystery himself, meaning that the Catholic clergy had no knowledge of it?
We know that the 'Shepherds of Arcadia' painting does indeed carry a 'code'. This has been demonstrated to me by Mr Paul Karren (there is an interview with Paul elsewhere on this site). The code is numeric and hinges on the number 681. Through his research he can plausibly show that "the device (the 681 armature) primarily describes the solar observatory at Saint Sulpice, the design of the chancel, and certain works oof art. It also has a cartographic aspect.....". Paul has identified a 'hidden' geometry linked to the key of 681 and we know that Poussin did indeed study geometry (it was his biographer Felibien who tells us that Poussn had knowledge of geometry and optics. He says Poussin learnt this from a mathematician called Zaccolini, who was an Italian painter, priest and author of the late Mannerist and early Baroque period. He was a mathematical theorist on perspective).
We even know that Poussin worked with some of the designers of the church of Saint Sulpice while they were based at the Louvre.
There are several other interesting 'connections' if you will. For example it is known that Saint Vincent de Paul was a canon at the collegiate church of Écouis - a church placed under the invocation of Our Lady of the Assumption and founded by Enguerrand de Marigny, the Minister of Finance of Philip the Fair before the year 1314. Écouis is in the vicinity of the Rouen area (see below): Above - map of the area of Ecouis. It is in close proximity of Les Andelys, Gisors as well as Rouen (just to the North West of Ecouis). Is it possible Vincent, before he came a Saint, could have been aware of Poussin?
Enguerrand de Marigny set up a college of 12 canons, with the approval of the king, the archbishop of Rouen who was then Bernard de Farges and French Pope Clement V (actually Bertrand de Got - who was the first pope in the trial of the Knights Templar) when he founded the church at Ecouis. Bernard de Farges himself was the son of Raymond of Fargis, a knight and lord of Clermont-Lodeve, and Mathilde, also sister of Pope Clement V. De Farges was appointed on June 4 1306 to the archbishopric of Rouen. He participated in the trial of the Templars by chairing the Council of Pont de l'Arche in 1310. He founded in 1317 the College of Narbonne in Paris - of which the revenues of Notre Dame de Marceille in Limoux were attributed to them until the eighteenth century. As we know, Saint Vincent de Paul set up the Lazarists at Notre Dame de Marceille centuries later.
Is there a connection between Vincent, Ecouis and the strange goings on at Notre Dame de Marceille? Notre Dame de Marceille is linked in the Rennes Affair by the association of the priests of the Razes and also by its link to the Fouquet's and members of the Compaigne de Saint Sacrement. We have already had cause to discuss this Company of Saint Sacrement! Francois Fouquet, whom we met earlier, who as being a possible aquaintance of Poussin when he was in Rouen and who was a brother of Louis Fouquet (who wrote the letter to Nicolas Poussin cited above regarding a secret of some import) was thought to have entrusted to the Doctrinaires a seminar and a home missionary: he obtained consuls from Limoux to install them at Notre Dame de Marceille. St Vincent was also known to these men and Saint Vincent had also been at Rouen around the same time as Poussin. Is there the possibilty that these people and later events were connected in some way?
Bernard de Farges also had a hand in the trial of the last Cathars.
If Poussin had gained some knowledge which he wanted to portray in painting before he left for Italy how may he have done this?
Poussin the Archaeologist?
Poussin is a product of his times. According to some observers he was a royal supporter of France. He was interested in the dynastic succession of French kings and also other European royalty. In fact, according to one scholar (Bernstock) she goes as far as to suggest that Poussin’s paintings are allegories of the Bourbon dynasty. This puts him in line with the activities of others such as the members of the Compaigne de Saint Sacrament – a group set up in 1628 by St Vincent de Paul, Nicolas Pavillon and Jean Jacques Olier, to support the claims to the throne of France the Bourbon dynasty. These three enigmatic characters later created the Society of Saint Sulpice, and architect Christophe Gamard began work on the church at Saint Sulpice. Again we see these same associations of various people that are all linked in some way to the Rennes Affair by Plantard and de Cherisey.
Paul Karren said that in his opinion the designs that Gamard used incorporated the key of 681 held by Nicolas Poussin. He reiterated:
"it is a breathtaking example of late Renaissance genius – one entirely unknown to modern academics. I know of no other example in art history where a single mathematical device simultaneously describes expert knowledge in the architecture of a church, its solar observatory, and certain works of art.
It is also important because it has remained secret. This implies a symbolic or practical importance. The question of why it has remained secret leads to your question of its purpose. Many clues suggest that this device also has a cartographic aspect and that this describes the environs of Rennes les Bains. If this is true then whatever was or is hidden there is the primary significance of the Armature. I have only partially worked out the cartographic elements – certain elements remain elusive. Given the secrecy this implies that whatever is hidden is or was important".
Doesnt Paul's comments have a resonance with Fouquet and the secret discussions he had with Poussin?
By using the parchments (which Philippe de Cherisey claimed to have created) Paul has arrived at a demonstrable 'key' held by Poussin and those at Saint Sulpice. Further research shown to me certainly points to Henri Boudet. The terminology of cartographic elements, the fact that Poussin said these things were difficult to search for and could make you powerful could all be a reference to this homage to the 681 mathematical key encoded at Saint Sulpice.
Perhaps Lepinois and Montaiglon were right to speculate that Poussin ‘marked’ an exceptional site of which he had obtained the ‘secret’ of. We now know Poussin has encoded a key related to 681 in his painting and that it is a mathematical device (dont forget also that Poussin's good friend Alexandre Courtois was also a mathematician). If these theories of Paul Karren are correct does Saint Sulpice then conceal something now or was this secret 'moved' at a later date?
Perhaps the 681 key is also linked to the motto on the tomb - Also I was in the divine tomb - it surely suggests an important tomb or burial that was linked to Saint Sulpice. Its also linked to the area of Rennes-les-Bains, a village near to Rennes-le-Chateau. Villages that had priests directly embroiled in the affair. How should we interpret all of this data? And is this why Cherisey saw fit to link all these disparate elements?
Certainly many of the characters that weave themselves in and out of the 'Rennes mystery' are associated in the mind of Cherisey with Berenger Sauniere and via the Priory documents also Saint Sulpice. Some are also indirectly associated with Nicolas Poussin. Is it all just a coincidence though? After all, intellectual and artistic circles would seek each other out. There may be no other connection except this simple fact! Some of the people that gravitated within the Poussin circle was people such as Jacques Lemercier (Pontoise c. 1585 – Paris, 13 January 1654), a French architect and engineer, one of the influential trio that included Louis Le Vau and François Mansart who formed the classicizing French Baroque. Louis Le Vau (1612 – 11 October 1670) was a French Classical architect who worked for Louis XIVth of France. He was responsible with Claude Perrault on the Palais du Louvre. Le Vau also designed the church of St. Sulpice with Christophe Gamard. Claude Perrault (25 September 1613 – 9 October 1688) is best known as the architect of the eastern range of the Louvre Palace in Paris (see Perrault’s Colonnade), but he also achieved success as a physician and anatomist, and as an author, who wrote treatises on physics and natural history. His brother, Charles Perrault, is remembered as the classic reteller of the old story of Cinderella among other fables. The Perrault brothers are referenced in Le Serpent Rouge along with Olier. Something most definitley is being intimated here.
What strange mystery does the new temple of Solomon conceal, built by the Children of Saint Vincent, indeed?
Todays Saint Sulpice church is erected over an old Romanesque church originally constructed during the 13th century. Additions were made over the centuries up to 1631. The new building was founded in 1646 by parish priest Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657) who had established the Society of Saint-Sulpice, a clerical congregation and a seminary attached to the church. Its chancel is the work of Christophe Gamard, Louis Le Vau and Daniel Gittard. Olier, a leader in the revival of religion in France associated himself with the followers first of St. Vincent and then of Père Charles de Condren, Superior of the Oratoire. The Society of the Oratory of Jesus (in French : Société de l'Oratoire de Jésus et de Marie Immaculée) is a catholic Congregation founded in 1611 in Paris by Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629). It had a determining influence on the French school of spirituality throughout the 17th Century. The aim of the Society was to centre spiritual life under the human aspect of Jesus, which was linked to the essence of God. The French Oratory was very important in the matter of spiritual direction, as the Fathers of the congregation were confessors of influential people, as for example Charles de Condren with Gaston d'Orléans, King Louis XIII's brother, and they were protected by the Court, especially Marie de Medici.
Olier and two others, de Foix and du Ferrier, entered upon a community life at Vaugirard, a village near Paris. Others soon joined them and before long there were eight seminarians who followed with the priests the same rule of life and were instructed in ecclesiastical sciences, Olier teaching Holy Scripture. Impressed by the fame of this reform, the curé of St Sulpice, disheartened by the deplorable state of his parish, offered it in exchange for some of Olier's benefices. In August, 1641, Olier took charge of St-Sulpice.
For all these connections Poussin himself felt that all of ‘modern’ civilisation was barbarous and he hearkened back for the antique civilisation of the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. He famously called Caravaggios art ‘painting for lackeys’ and Poussin accused him of ‘coming to destroy painting’. Poussin by far felt that trying to imitate ‘the antique was an approach to nature’. To do his ‘high art’ Poussin therefore became a latter day archaeologist and a scholar. He consulted all extant archives and libraries. He went to view ancient architecture and remains. He is said to have used very scientific methods, measuring statues, looking at and studying bas – reliefs, he studied ancient sarcophagi, ancient art and engravings and also mosaics. Some scholars have commented that to some extent Poussins art was for the initiated.
Poussin we are told was a great historian, a great teller of fables and an epic poet! Bellori, a biographer of Poussin, had used the word 'poesia' in regard to the paintings of Poussin - which meant that his paintings were allegorical paintings of moral concepts. He applied it to various paintings of Poussin, including 'Et in Arcadia Ego' (Bellori calls this painting 'Happiness Subject to Death' - it was Anthony Blunt who first called the painting Shepherds of Arcadia in 1966. However whichever title is used the import is the same - the idea of lowly shepherds in Arcadia studying a tomb on which a motto is reflecting their own mortality). Scholars think he ‘encoded’ all of his art.
Poussin himself held that the most important thing an artist could strive for was a 'painting history’. He claimed that his most important contact and influence while he was in Paris was Courtois. Through him as we have already seen Poussin had access to royal art collections as well as library archives. The Neo-platonic academies and the like were being created at this time, and the Medici family, who Poussin was so closely linked to, had already embarked on a programme of travelling world wide to gain manuscripts and ancient books.
Above - a self portrait of Nicolas Poussin
In Rome Poussin had access to the surviving Roman architecture and art. For example Poussin is known to have studied and made drawings of Trajans Column. Numerous sketches exist that Poussin completed – of artefacts and surviving archaeology of roman ruins and monuments. Karen Wilkin said, when describing the art of Poussin that his: ‘arcadian landscapes and scenes of ancient cities, where idealised men and women, gods and heroes, patriarchs and saints solemnly enact remote dramas like stage performers ……’
Poussin’s paintings were moral invectives which would have been immediately obvious to his contemporary audiences. His patrons and the King would also immediately have recognised the symbolism employed by Poussin. Somehow most of that has been lost for today’s modern audience. Why did Poussin paint in the ways that he did? Why would historical painting be the only truth for Poussin?
Poussin and the free thinkers
Some of the influences for Poussin can be seen in the people he mixed with and other associations he made as we have seen above. Poussin appears not to have just limited himself to the arts but he was also interested in the work of the poets and playrights, the story -tellers, musicians and scientists. Possibly Poussin saw a truth that was common to all the arts and sciences of his time. Religion also must have been important to him … and he certainly lived in a turbulent time for religious controversy and religious wars. Its difficult to assess the kind of Jesus Poussin accepted. Looking at his depictions of Jesus and of biblical scenes one can always find some inconsistency or some controversial motif within his ‘high art’. Poussin, known as the ‘painter-philosopher’, appears to have searched for all knowledge and all truth and therefore enlightenment.
The paintings that Poussin created around 1622 for the Jesuits signalled the interest of Giovanni Marino. Marino was a favourite of Marie de Medici and as we have already seen Poussin had links with him. Through Marino Poussin was introduced to more of Marinos circle of friends. Marino became a friend of Poussin and also one of his patrons. Through Marino Poussin had access to the great intellectuals of his age. He had access to courtly circles. The various friends of Poussin included Jacques Stella (who he met in Lyon) and he also had links with the ‘french libertines’ or ‘freethinkers’ (although this remains very controversial) who were in Rome while Poussin lived there. These ‘libertines’ included Abbe Bourdelot (Pierre Michon) and Gabriel Naudé.
Evidence of these associations comes from the letters that are extant in the Bibliotech Nationale – especially letters exchanged between Bourdelot and Dal Pozzo. Cassiano dal Pozzo became Poussin’s greatest friend and patron. He owned the famous paper museum, another huge resource for Poussin. Some of these letters for example place Poussin as a guest at parties thrown for Cassiano and which had guests who were thought to be ‘libertines’.
Jacques Stella was born in Lyon in 1595, his father François was a painter but he died before having the opportunity to teach his son. During the 1610s Jacques received artistic training from the Lyon painter Horace Le Blanc who in 1610 returned to his French hometown from Italy. It must have been from his teacher that Jacques was eager to travel to Italy and this he did in 1619. It is known that Poussin travelled to Lyon several times during the 1610s and it was probably during these visits that Jacques and Nicolas Poussin met and established the foundation for their future friendship. During his years in Florence (1619 -23) Jacques' prominence as an artist grew and he was given fine commissions by Cosimo II de' Medici and during these years he again met Poussin. Both Jacques and Poussin established themselves as well respected artists in Rome and Jacques' growing stature even gave him invitations from abroad; King Philip IV of Spain invited Jacques to come to Madrid and be his court painter, something that the artist declined.
Jacques and Poussin continued their friendship despite the geographical distance and during his stay in France Jacques commissioned several paintings from Poussin. The first work to be completed by Poussin was the painting Rinaldo and Armida (1637). Two years later, in 1639, Poussin completed Venus Presenting Arms to Aeneas, and it is very likely that this painting was delivered by Poussin himself. Poussin left Rome for Paris in 1640, 'ordered' by Richelieu to come to Paris and undertake a commission given by Louis XIII to decorate the Long - Gallery at the Louvre. Jacques, now being Peintre du Roi ('The King's Painter'), collaborated with Poussin on this huge commission. Poussin only stayed in Paris for two years and in 1642 he fled back to Rome leaving the work in Paris incomplete. This move was not highly appreciated by either Richelieu or King Louis XIII and it was Jacques that managed to defuse the situation, hence it was due to the intervention of his good friend Jacques that Poussin could avoid returning to Paris ever again. Jacques continued his artistic work and patronage and he commissioned three paintings by Poussin; Moses Striking Water from the Rock (1649), The Exposition of Moses (1654). The end of Jacques' life was marked by illness and not long after receiving his last painting from Poussin (the Birth of Bacchus) in 1657 he died in Paris. During a period after his death, the artist Jacques Stella publicly was forgotten, and during this time many of his works were sold under the name of Nicolas Poussin.
Cassiano dal Pozzo - Poussin’s greatest friend
Cassiano was brought up in Pisa under the control of his father's first cousin Archbishop Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo. The young boy followed the family tradition and at 19 years of age (1607) Cassiano graduated from Pisa University with a degree in civil and ecclesiastical law. Law still did not appeal to Cassiano and it was the world of art and science that he was interested in, something that he had the possibility to nurture by meeting artists through his guardian's connections at the Medici court. Science was more easily available for Cassiano through the university and for example in the university botanical garden he met Galileo Galilei. In August 1611 Cassiano decided to give up his legal career and in 1612 he arrived in Rome.
During his first years in Rome Cassiano spent a lot of time reading both sacred and profane Latin and Greek authors to make himself more "familiar with the wisdom, customs and works of the ancients". It was Cardinal Francesco del Monte that introduced Cassiano to the intellectual artistic and aristocratic circles in Rome, including prominent persons such as Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VII) and Matteo's nephew Francesco Barberini. In 1623, when Matteo became Pope and Francesco a cardinal, Cassiano began to work for the Barberini household, a position he was to hold for the next 21 years.
Already within the first 5 -7 years of Poussin's arrival to Rome (1624-1630) Cassiano had commissioned several paintings with both mythological and religious subjects - Cephalus and Aurora, Virgin and Child, Landscape with Venus and Adonis, Eleazer and Rebecca at the well, Landscape with Pompilius and Egeria, Landscape with nymphs and satyrs, and Hannibal crossing the alps. It is clear that it was mainly due to Cassiano that Poussin had the chance to establish himself as an artist in Rome and in the 1630s Poussin found himself being an established and highly regarded painter. The dal Pozzo's continued to patronise Poussin and the 1630s was a period of important commissions from both Cassiano (Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, The companions of Rinaldo, St. John baptising the people) and his brother Carlo Antonio (Adoration of the golden calf and Crossing of the red sea). The most important of all 1630s commissions was the set of the Seven Sacraments that Poussin painted for Cassiano between 1636-1640. The 7 paintings were not painted in an order following the subject's narrative and the first to be painted was Penance which now is lost and therefore its format and style can only be seen in a copy. The other 6 paintings still in existence were painted in the following order: Matrimony, Extreme Unction, Confirmation, Ordination, The Eucharist and Baptism.
It seems that Cassiano during the 1640s did not commission any paintings from Poussin, this was probably due to his interest in other contemporary artists and his creation of his 'Paper Museum' consisting of drawings arranged according to subjects matter and they all together created a kind of encyclopaedia of the natural and ancient world (Poussin probably contributed with drawings to this collection). Due to Pope Urban's death in 1644 Cassiano lost his official position, but a year later in 1645 he regained his position in the papal group in Rome, this mainly due to that the newly elected Pope Alexander VII was a close friend. Poussin painted two more paintings commissioned by Cassiano; Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe and the Annunciation. The dal Pozzo collection also acquired paintings by other means, and in 1652 Carlo Antonio inherited a painting by Poussin, this being the Holy Family which the artist had painted for the Genoese art dealer Giovanni Stefano Roccatagliata in 1641.
Through Cassiano Poussin would have been introduced to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Being a nephew to Pope Urban VIII, Francesco made a swift and prominent papacy career. He became cardinal in 1623 and nine years later, in 1632, he became papal Vice -Chancellor. In 1625 Francesco went to Paris on a papal assignment accompanied by Cassiano dal Pozzo and Cardinal Rospigliosi. During this time he saw the magnificent art patronage of the French monarchy, a manner which he with his family would adopt on his return to Rome. When back in Rome a literati circle was slowly established around Francesco (including dal Pozzo and Rospigliosi), and scholars and artists mingled in this intellectual group throughout Francesco's lifetime.
Altogether Francesco commissioned three paintings by Poussin - Death of Germanicus and two versions of the Destruction of Temple of Jerusalem (the earlier version is now lost). Francesco never showed great interest in Poussin's work and shortly after the completion of each painting they were given away to foreign dignities. It is also very likely that Poussin did not like the Barberini family, one of the reasons for this is their friendship with Cardinal Mazarin, a person that Poussin greatly disliked due to personal reasons. Being French, Mazarin held a great affection to French artist's, and especially those who was trained in Italy since he saw Italy to be a centre of cultural excellence. Having this personal preference it is not surprising that Mazarin also owned a few paintings made by Nicolas Poussin - Inspiration of the Poet and Diana and Endymion. The two paintings were made during an early stage of Poussin's career and it is believed that Mazarin obtained the paintings shortly after their creation (probably around 1632 whilst being in Rome). Poussin biographer Passart, who was in Rome between 1629-35, also states that Mazarin was one of Poussin's many patrons. Mazarin spent most of his later years in France, this probably being one reason why he did not acquire further paintings made by Poussin. Another reason is that Mazarin also bought works of art for Cardinal Richelieu, this leading to paintings made by Poussin more likely ended up in Richelieu's ownership instead. A third and very interesting reason is Poussin's obvious dislike of Mazarin. He believed the cardinal to be corrupt, and Poussin also loathed Mazarin since it was him who "caused the downfall of Sublet de Noyers and thereby ruined the career of his patron Chantelou."
From the correspondence between Poussin and Chantelou it becomes quite clear that their love for art was enough to make the two close friends. It was both in terms of friendship and business that the two looked after each other, for example, it was Poussin when in Rome, that took care of all practicalities involved in Chantelou's collecting of art, and following Poussin's death in 1665 it was Chantelou who was the executor of the artist's will. Shortly before his death Poussin wrote a letter to Chantelou, in it asking him to look after his family when he is dead: "I know from the experience which I have of your kindness that you will do it willingly, as you have done for your poor friend Poussin over more than twenty -five years". Throughout the years they knew each other Chantelou was one of Poussin's most important patrons and his most trusted and loyal friend.
Other friends of Poussin included Giulio Rospigliosi. Rospigliosi studied at the University of Pisa and he became a doctorate in philosophy and theology, he also taught at the same university between 1623 - 25 . It was in Rome that his literary ability gave him a place in the Barberini circle, some of Giulio's plays were written specifically for the theatre in the Palazzo Barberini. Upon his arrival to Rome he also became directly involved in the entourage which accompanied Cardinal Francesco Barberini on his delegations to Spain and France, and during these journeys he also spent a lot of time with fellow travelling companion Cassiano dal Pozzo.
It was in the 1630s that Giulio started to collect paintings, and not only became an important patron for Poussin but the two also became good friends. There is now only one painting left which it is for certainty known that Giulio purchased from Poussin, this being the 1643 Holy Family in the Temple. It is evident that Giulio influenced Poussin's choice of subjects portrayed in his paintings. It was through his earlier university studies that Giulio had become interested in literary and pastoral topics and he also transferred this interest to Poussin. Bellori states that on his patron's suggestion Poussin painted the Arcadian Shepherds (Louvre) and the Dance to the music of time (London). The narrative maybe to some extent also being influenced by Giulio's own poems. It is also suggested that after seeing the inscription 'Et Arcadia Ego' in a painting by Guercino, Giulio told Poussin about the theme which Poussin then later also painted in his own versions of the 'theme'. It is still unclear if Giulio ever purchased these paintings from Poussin since they are not mentioned in the Rospigliosi inventory of 1713. During and after Poussin’s stay in Paris (1640 -42) Giulio's patronage to Poussin stopped.
Rospigliosi was an ardent admirer of Queen Christina. He also knew Guercino via Christina and as we know he is known to have been the first ever painter to use the enigmatic ‘et in arcadia ego…’ phrase.
Beresford (a modern art critic) tells us to be on our guard, however, regarding the assertion that Rospigliosi gave Poussin the idea of the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ because the theme had been dealt with earlier by Guercino . However Beresford misses the point. Christina is known to have taken an interest in Guercino’s work even visiting him in his Bologna studio. As Rospigliosi was such an intimate friend of Christina’s couldn’t it be that Rospigliosi may have known Guercino through Christina and given him the idea of his ’particular’ theme of Arcadia in much the same way he did for Poussin? However, a modern biographer of Poussin, Judith Bernstock reports that most historians concur that Poussin probably saw Guercino’s painting with the 'et in arcadia ego’ phrase during his stay in Venice in March 1624. This is assuming that the Guercino painting was still in the environs of Bologna. However, others assert that Urban VIII, a writer of elegiac verses, bought it soon after his accession in 1623 and that Poussin may have seen it in Rome in a Barberini collection.
What other source rather than Rospigliosi could have been the source for Poussins knowledge of Guercino? It may once again have been Poussin's good friend Marino. This poet was in contact with Lodovico Carracci with whom Guercino later studied. Marino was patronised by Cosimo II de Medici, and as we read above it was Lorenzo de Medici who had created the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ society. Cosimo de Medici also later commissioned from Guercino the painting called ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas’ in 1618 which features the two shepherds later used by Guercino in his 'Et in Arcadia Ego...'. In fact, let us speculate - the subject of Apollo Flaying Marsyas' is "a traditional metaphor of Christ's sacrifice and act of redemption .....(it) represents ...an exhortation to participate in the Passion as one meditates on death". It is art created with Christian associations in a pagan guise. Let us speculate that along with the shepherd's watching the sacrifice of Christ, and then later being painted by Guercino viewing a tomb - written on which is a phrase that could mean - Also I was in the divine tomb - the divine tomb may be that of Jesus himself! As many Rennes researchers will know, this idea of the 'tombeau de Christ' is the most common theory advanced for the 'mystery' of Rennes-le-Chateau!
Other friendships Poussin may have developed include Naudé. Naudé is himself associated with the Rosicrucians. There is a certain affinity between the aims of the ‘libertines’ and the Rosicrucians. This may explain why Naudé championed the cause of the Rosicrucians. When the furore concerning the Rosicrucians swept Paris in 1623 Poussin was actually living in Paris. He was staying in the Luxembourg Palace and was completing commissions there. Frances Yates in her seminal work ‘The Rosicrucian Enlightment’ refers to Naudé reporting about the events surrounding the Rosicrucians. Apparently, Naude said, placards appeared in Paris announcing the presence of the Brethren of the Rose Cross. Naude also reports in his publication that the Brethren had had a meeting in Lyon to discuss their launch. This places Poussin in the town probably at the same time these Rosicrucians were planning their assaults and Manifestos. Is it possible that Poussin may have mixed with these individuals? Was Lyon, in Poussin’s day a medium sized town, where most intellectuals and artists would have been aware of each other? I think it is entirely possible. Naude talks as an informed person – even at this early stage. He quotes at length from the Fama Fraternitus.
Naudé gives a list of authors who represent the kind of teachings that the Rosicrucians wished to teach. They were John Dee, Trithemius, Ramon Lull and Paracelsus. Naudé like Poussin was an antiquarian and scholar. It is highly likely that they knew each other. It is highly likely that their circle of friends were the same figures of this intellectual and artistic society. According to Bernstock, McTigh indicated that: ‘Poussin’s landscape paintings of the 1640’s reflect the political and social thinking of the libertines’. These libertine [read Rosicrucian] ‘landscape’ allegories and images focussed around ‘Arcadia’ and the ‘Golde Age’ and ‘Saturn’. And in fact this libertine movement in France was a branch of the same movement seen elsewhere in Europe. For example the Baconian led Reformation in England of the arts and sciences used the imagery of 'Arcadia, the Golden Age and Saturn’. The art and poems etc which were written in this period seemed to emanate from small groups of people who were rich and of the nobility. Their same objectives echoed the Rosicrucian ideals and Manifestos. Was Poussin then, a free thinker in the vein of these movements?
Bernstock has suggested that "Poussin chose to copy and investigate antique models to illustrate his political objectives’, and that he then illustrated this in his paintings. Further "Poussin used classical mythology to bolster modern political ideaology’. This sounds incredible. Is it possible, as one researcher suggested that the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ was the visual equivalent of a history book?
Arcadian Imagery and its Significance
I have written several times on the imagery of Arcadia. For some reason the theme of Arcadia swept Europe in cycles throughout several years. Thought to trace back to the poems of Virgil I have never really understood why the poems referring to Arcadia by Virgil should be so adopted. For our purposes here, the modern incarnation, as identified above, of the fascination for Arcadia first appeared in references around the time of Rene d’Anjou. Rene was linked with Cosimo de Medici (that is Cosimo the Elder - born 1389 and died 1464) and it was this Cosimo who began, in 1444, to send his various agents around the world looking for and collecting ancient manuscripts – presumably to tap into ancient knowledge and teaching. It was Cosimo who founded the first European Library so we must assume that at heart Cosimo had altruistic aims in allowing this knowledge to be accessed by all. He may even have taken as his model the great library of Alexandria, the place of excellent learning and wisdom.
But how did Poussin himself view the idea of Arcadia? Bernstock suggests that Poussin’s ‘arcadian’ pastoral scenes were "..a mixture of pagan, Christian and secular ideology in the mythology of King – as a shepherd’. Bernstock continues saying that the French king simultaneously ‘equated with shepherds, Christ, Moses and David, who were all shepherd kings, classical gods and heroes and also Roman Emporers’ . As well as having the ‘divine right’ to rule the French monarchy adhered to the legends that France contained the ancient tribes of Israel (as does Britain). The French king also claimed descent from the Sicambrians, that is, the Merovingian priest kings. It is an interesting question why the later French monarchy would claim this when the Merovingians were seen as ‘failed’ kings.
In England Francis Bacon used the image of a shepherd piercing a viper with a spear. The texts describe the viper stinging the shepherd while he slept. This shepherd was associated with Apollo, the God of poetic inspiration and illumination. Once again this was a theme used by both Bacon and Poussin. The closeness of the artistic works of Bacon and Poussin are uncanny, Poussin via painting and Bacon via his writing. Is it possible that the two were somehow linked in the same objectives? Dawkins has several times suggested to me (in private correspondence) that Bacon knew about the secret ‘matter of France’ and that he had access to a monumental secret of France. Is it possible that Bacon and Poussin were aware of each other? Is there evidence of this? Indeed there is, and quite a lot of it. The link seems to be yet again the family of the Joyeuses. As we saw they owned the land on which the tomb pictured in Poussin's painting of the Shepherds of Arcadia is said to have been situated. Henrietta - Catherine de Joyeuse remarried in 1611 Charles de Lorraine, fourth Duke of Guise. Her first marriage had been to Henri de Bourbon. Their daughter Marie Bourbon, Duchess of Montpensier married Gaston Jean-Baptiste, Duc de Orleans. He was a son of Henry IVth & Marie de Medici. Gaston himself married later Marguerite, a daughter of Charles IVth & their daughter went on to marry Cosimo III de Medici. One can see a pattern of inter-relationship here between the Medici clan and the families whose ancestry goes back to Good King Rene, originator of the Arcadian symbolism later used by Poussin. Poussin also moved in these circles of influence. The reason I refer to the Joyeuse family so much is not only that the so called Arcady tomb was on their land, not only did Poussin have close links with this family but it is also almost certain that Bacon knew the Joyeuses. Dawkins says that Bacon himself may have attended the Joyeuse Magnificences held when the Duc de Joyeuse married Marie De Lorraine.
Art historians have also noted that Poussin must have been aware of Kircher's researches into hieroglyphics in Rome as well as the work of Francis Bacon's writing on hieroglyphics. Poussin himself is said to have been fascinated with hieroglyphics. But that Poussin knew of Bacon is also shown in letters of Cassiano dal Pozzo. We have already seen that Cassiano was a great friend of Poussin. And it was Cassiano, while he was in Paris as a member of the entourage of Francesco Barberini, that he wrote to the secretary of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome to recommend that Francis Bacon be preposed as a member of that society. He said "I have just received a book by an author whom, if he did not live in England, I would like to make every effort to have among us; he is the very one whose SAGGI MORALI & DE SAPIENTA VETERUM I published, Francis Bacon, who a short while ago put out a work called ‘On the Dignity and the Advancement of Sciences’ a most notable work which gives much of profit for the advancement of speculation in all of the sciences’.
In a further link Bacon himself is often said to have been the Father CRC of the Rosicrucians. Bacon is said to have composed the first two Rosicrucian Manifestos. There is much circumstantial evidence to support this statement. If true, this brings us yet again to the circle of people around the Rosicrucians and French ‘libertines’ including Naude and Abbe Bourdelot. Once again these figures have been associated with Poussin himself. We must also remember that Poussin lived in Lyon for 3 years (Lyon being the town suggested by Naude where the Rosicrucians met) and also that when the Rosicrucians swept Paris in 1623 Poussin was carrying out painting commissions he had there. The interesting thing about Poussin and Bacon is that they adopted the ‘pun’ art of language. The ideas stemmed from an interest in the Egyptian hieroglyphs where both thought that ‘pictures’ were used to embody concepts, ideas and language. McTigh even suggests that Poussin wanted to use hieroglyphics to convey a ‘political message’.
In 1662 Claude-Francois Menestrier would, according to Bernstock, identify three types of painted enigma, adopted by Poussin. These were:
• 1) The story hidden under symbols
• 2) The story hiding natural properties of things &
• 3) the rebus consisting of a single word represented by diverse things.
As Bernstock goes on to say: ‘Menestrier posits that postures of figures and colours of clothing conceal the meaning of the first two types. He ordains that the rebus can represent a single word, an entire sentence, or as he states in another context, either of two words; the word must be trivial, a commonplace object symbolised through an elevated image. He also stresses that the painting should seem sufficient according to its explicit meaning but that some symbol should inform the viewer that an additional significance lies with in’.
Isn't this what ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ shows us? I would conjecture that the ‘symbol’ showing us an additional significance is indeed the tomb that we see in each painting.
Bacon himself turned to the hieroglyphics as a language of ‘science’. In his writings Bacon ‘seriously considered hieroglyphics as a possible form of notation for the modern experimental sciences’. Bacon's interest was with the esoteric method of communication and it took the form of constant playing with figures, fables, aphorisms and ciphers of all kinds. Preface's in his work's showed that he preferred to read fables as allegories twisting them to serve the purpose of the alchemists and the philosophers. He wanted to overhaul the fable allegories and make them embody new knowledge. Was Poussin acting in this way with his painting?
Bacon was suggesting a new system of coded characters. Bacon wanted to create a ‘universal language’. These works were much appreciated by Poussin’s patrons and by extension I suggest, by Poussin himself. Poussin later on did indeed use the notion of the hieroglyph in his painted works. This appears to have been in the adoption of the idea of ‘saturn’. Poussin probably alludes to the ‘faineant’ associated with the second race of Merovingians (an interesting turn of phrase used by Bernstock – what does she mean by the second race of Merovingians?) as a lesson for the shepherd in red in ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. In ancient thought, Saturn could produce kings, rulers and founders of cities, as well as philosophers, soothsayers, mathematicians, geometricians and astrologers. Saturn also held the knowledge of things that were hidden or secret. The whole iconography was based on the myth of the Golden Age and Saturn’s banishment to the underworld. Saturn was a Roman god of crops and this Saturn was merged with thee Greek god Kronos who was the god of agriculture.
The shepherd and arcadian imagery was also used by the likes of the poet Ronsard – who used the ‘shepherd’ to convey a political message. Was Poussin following this mold? Bernstock suggests that the often quoted point that Rospigliosi was behind the Shepherds of Arcadia cannot be true & she actually thinks that Rospigliosi played an important role in the ‘conceit’ behind the Chatsworth version ‘ET IN ARCADIA EGO’. She quotes Blunt as her source for her idea – because Blunt says that an inventory of paintings taken by the Palazzo Rospigliosi (date?) shows that the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ is not listed, and was probably never owned by Rospigliosi. Again the name of Henry AVICE comes up. According to Loménie de Brienne, a ‘Mr Avisse’ was the chevalier Henri Avice and he owned ‘Et In Arcadia Ego’ (that is – the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia). Avice in 1643 was ‘ingénieur’ of the king’s army. He is also known to have been an amateur engraver. Some of his engravings have some of the iconography later found in the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ painting.
Bernstock speculates that as Avice was in the Kings Army and went with him on campaigns to the south of France and because Louis was known to have ‘taken the waters’ at Rennes-le-Bains could Avice have sketched tombs and inscriptions and sent them or shown them to Poussin ? Could Poussin have used the ARC in Arques and Arcadia with the word ‘ARCANI’ which meant ‘secrets of state’? Bernstock asks - if he sent information to Poussin may it have included his work as a map-maker and the positioning of a tentative zero Meridian?
These are all fascinating suggestion - when we know Paul Karren has discerned a cartographic element in Poussin's 'Shepeherds of Arcadia' and the 681 key.
Poussin and his Language of Painting
Poussin already had an interest in language. He may have learnt from his friend and patron Rospigliosi about poetry, conceits, librettos and operas, all of which Rospigliosi was known to have written and championed in others. Rospigliosi had many links with literary characters and talents and for example was aware of Shakespeare. Poussin may himself have been aware of this literature and ‘new’ language propounded by Shakespeare via his old friend Marino. Marino also knew the work of Herbert of Cherbury and Thomas Carew and he may have known them through the French court. All these artists and writers which include all the names I have mentioned in this article, as well as Poussin and Bacon himself guarded, a kind of ‘sacred tradition’ about ‘shepherds’ & ‘arcadia’. It was Panofsky who makes mention of Lorenzo de Medici and his circle of poets at the Villa Medici known as the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’.
As we have seen language was important. Francis Bacon had as one of his laudable aims to re-invigorate and start anew the English language. Richelieu was doing the same on the French side. Bernstock says: ‘Historians have long recognised that Poussins interest in language paralleled the preoccupation of the Académie Français, and along with it, inspired the ‘verbal mystique’ surrounding French painting as it …. Became fiercely lingustic’. Are we supposed to ‘hear’ Poussin’s paintings as well as to ‘see’ them? Again according to Bernstock Poussin: ‘Created specific word games which are meaningful analogies’
We have already looked at the rebus and the false hieroglyphic (as some scholars call it) and suggested that Poussin through the ‘punning’ language was intimating a lot more was involved in ‘decoding’ his paintings. According to Francis Bacon, who used cipher writing, there were six main ciphers and one method which included the anagrammatic as well as the important hieroglyphic cipher of pictorial method including mathematical and musical symbolism and the word cipher. Whereas Bacon employed various ciphers in his writing did Poussin use the symbol or hieroglyphic cipher? To some scholars he certainly did.
Bernstock suggests another image of Poussins, that of Apollo and the Muses (or ‘Parnassus). She thinks this was Poussin's way of signifying the ‘regeneration of the arts and letters’. These groups modelled themselves on Parnassus. Bacon uses the exact same symbolism. He in fact used to call himself Apollo. Bacon set up his Arcadian Academy (and other artistic and scientific ‘secret’ groups) and made their base at Parnassus. Bacon refers directly to Pegasus, Apollo and Parnassus. Sir Philip Sidney was known as the ‘High Constable of Parnassus’. They were members of the Englsih Areopagus, formed in the days of Queen Elisabeth the first. Later, Michael Maier (a supporter of the Rosicrucians) in his Themis Aurea says that the Temple of the Rosy Cross is located ‘beside the spring of Helicon on double-peaked Parnassus’. Poussin is also alleged to have practised within his painting ‘word games’ and ‘punning’ which required a certain way of looking at the paintings to ‘decode’ them. Does the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ encod a specific area in France through the ‘looking at’ of the painting and through the ‘hearing’ of the painting.
Avice – owner and patron of ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ was known to be a map – maker & may have known of tentative calculations for a possible zero Meridian on that land owned by the Joyeuses. Bernstock herself suggests that Poussin seems to be ‘fixing’ a line in his painting – describing thus: ‘… (a) sunrise line from Rennes to Arques church cuts the Paris (zero) Meridian exactly where it intersects the line from the tomb to Rennes-le-Bains’. She suggests that Poussin is indicating the location of the zero meridian near or at the centre of the tomb (in the painting of the Shepherds of Arcadia). Why? Perhaps, in line with Oliviero’s supposition that Poussin is marking a ‘divine tomb’ that he and other initiates have perhaps been privy to witness, then is this tomb to be found in the vicinity of Rennes Les Bains? Let us remember that this is not the first time this conclusion has been reached by other researchers.
It seems certain that around the time of Poussin and Bacon, when the Rosicrucians were being formed, when Arcadian Imagery reached its zenith as some sort of political agenda, when Saint Sulpice was being built, when Saint Vincent was carrying out his religious plans ..... Poussin was creating through his paintings a ‘punning’ language which would need to be decoded. The main painting of interest is the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ in which it seems certain a particular area in France was being signaled and that this area had legends of a great archaeological treasure and most definitely a tomb of great importance. Persons around Poussin were heavily involved in this endeavour and may have included the setting of a Meridian in this area, at or near the tomb signified by Poussin. Associated with these people were other groups, notably the mysterious Rosicrucians (who met in Lyon and appeared at the same time as Poussin). Let us remember the most interesting of suggestions about the origin of the term Rosicrucians - Rose and Cross - was put forward by Andrews and Schellenberger. They say that where the Rose Line crosses [specifically at a point on Pech Cardou, a mountain in the region of Rennes-le-Chateau] at an important site on its east - west axis there is formed a Rose-Cross.
English representatives may also have been involved, in particular Francis Bacon. At this time others such as Nicolas Pavillon (a close friend of Richelieu and the Fouquets) was Bishop of Alet, an important town near to Rennes le Château. Pavillon helped set up the Compaigne de Saint Sacrement. In some way or another all these groups were associated with a ‘monumental’ secret viz;
• Bacon – who is said to have been involved in the ‘Matter of France’ and in possession of a secret.
• Poussin – divulged a secret to Louis Fouquet said to be of immense import and valuable. The Rosicrucians – whose very existence supposedly centred on a huge secret & the Campaigne de Saint Sacrement - created specifically to guard a ‘monumental’ secret.
Shall we suppose that these are not 4 separate secrets but one major important one shared by these groups? And shall we suppose that it is linked in some way to Sauniere and Rennes-le-Chateau? Above - the tomb at Arques - the spitting image of the tomb in Poussin's most famous painting.
• This article was written in 2007 and updated in 2012. Originally published in the Journal of the Rennes Alchemist.