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Although Nicolas Poussin's work exerted an enormous influence on the development of French seventeenth-century painting, the artist perfected his style in Rome, incorporating the lessons of Renaissance and contemporary Italian painters into his own idiom. Poussin's Baptism of Christ is one of a series of canvases illustrating the Seven Sacraments executed from 1638-1642 for his friend and patron Cassiano dal Pozzo.

In Poussin's composition, the river Jordan winds through the foreground plane where he has placed thirteen figures. Christ is located to the right of the canvas; on his left side -- which represents paradise -- two figures, probably wingless angels, kneel to help him. To his right, on the earthly side of the Jordan, Saint John holds a vessel over Christ's head.

The reactions of the figures to the right of Christ demonstrate why mastery of the human form was essential to history painting. The row of figures behind Saint John have anguished expressions and contorted poses. Poussin has depicted the specific moment when the voice of the Lord proclaimed: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). By presenting complex poses and physiognomies, Poussin has evoked a very human reaction -- the fear of those present as they acknowledge Christ as the son of God -- thereby encouraging the viewer to identify with this significant moment.


Commissioned by Cavaliere Cassiano dal Pozzo [d. 1657], Rome; by inheritance to his brother, Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo [d. 1689], Rome; by inheritance to his son, Gabriele dal Pozzo [d. 1695], Rome; by inheritance to his son, Cosimo Antonio dal Pozzo [died c. 1739], Rome; pledged by Pozzo to Marchese del Bufalo, Rome, as payment for debt [Bufalo offered his set of Poussin's Seven Sacraments to King Louis XV of France in 1729 when Bufalo ran into financial difficulties]; returned to Cosimo Antonio dal Pozzo, Rome, when debt paid, in either February 1730 or February 1732;[1] by inheritance to his daughter, Maria Laura dal Pozzo Boccapaduli; by inheritance to the Boccapaduli family, Rome, who attempted to sell the series to Sir Robert Walpole [d. 1745], but export license was denied by the Pope; sold 1785 for the Boccapaduli family by (James Byres, Rome)[2] to Charles Manners, 4th duke of Rutland [1754-1787], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, John Henry Manners, 5th duke of Rutland [1778-1857], Belvoir Castle;[3] by inheritance to his son, Charles Cecil John Manners, 6th duke of Rutland [1815-1888], Belvoir Castle; by inheritance to his son, John James Robert Manners, 7th duke of Rutland [1818-1906], Belvoir Castle; by inheritance to his son, Henry John Brinsley Manners, 8th duke of Rutland [1852-1925], Belvoir Castle; by inheritance to his son, John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th duke of Rutland [1886-1940], Belvoir Castle; sold 1939 to (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London); sold December 1944 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1946 to NGA.

Exhibition History

17th Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1938, no. 318, repro.
Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 786.
Exposition Nicolas Poussin. 2nd ed. (Exh. cat. Musée du Louvre.) Paris, 1960: 94-95.
L’ ideale classico del Seicento in Italia e la pittura di paesaggio. (Exh. cat. Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio.) Bologna, 1962: 186-188.
Poussin: Sacraments and Bacchanals. Paintings and Drawings on Sacred and Profane Themes by Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1981, no. 37.

Rosenberg, Pierre. La peinture française du xvii e siècle dans les collections américaines. (Exh. cat. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Art Institute of Chicago.) Paris, 1982. English ed., France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-Century French Paintings in American Collections. New York, 1982: 371, no. 12.
Nicolas Poussin, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1994-1995, no. 69 (Paris) and no. 44 (London), repro.

Rosenberg, Pierre, and Louis-Antoine Prat. Nicolas Poussin 1594 – 1665. (Exh. cat. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais.) Paris, 1994: no. 69.
L'Idea del Bello. Viaggio per Roma nel Seicento con Giovan Pietro Bellori, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 2000, no. 37, repro.


Félibien, André. Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres anciens et modernes. 6 vols. 1st ed. Paris, 1666-1688. Reprint Trévoux, 1725: 4:23.
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829 – 1842: 8(1837):no. 135.
Eller, Irvin. The History of Belvoir Castle. London, 1841: 291-292.
Manners, Lady Victoria. “Notes on the Pictures at Belvoir Castle.” The Connoisseur 6 (1903): 131 – 134.
"Correspondance de Nicolas Poussin publiée d’après les originaux." In Archives de l’art français, nouvelle période, edited by Charles Jouanny. Paris, 1911: vol. 5: 22, 29, 45, 53, 55, 57, 58, 60, 64, 66, 68, 69, 70, 74.
Friedlaender, Walter. Nicolas Poussin. Die Entwicklung seiner Kunst. Munich, 1914: 76, 117.
Grautoff, Otto. Nicolas Poussin: sein Werk und sein Leben. 2 vols. Munich and Leipzig, 1914: 1:172, 2: no. 99.
Magne, Emile. Nicolas Poussin: premier peintre du roi, 1594 – 1665. Brussels, 1914: no. 229.
Reynolds, Sir Joshua. Letters of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Ed. F. W. Hilles. Cambridge, 1929: 163.
Passeri, Giovanni Battista. Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti che hanno lavorato a Roma, morti del 1641 fino al 1673. Rome, 1772. Die Künstlerbiographien von Giovanni Battista Passeri. Ed. Jacob Hess. Leipzig and Vienna, 1934: 327.
Borenius, Tancred. “French School at Burlington House.” The Burlington Magazine 72 (Feb. 1938): 54-55.
Friedlaender, Walter, and Anthony Blunt, eds. The Drawings of Nicolas Poussin: Catalogue Raisonné Studies of the Warburg Institute. 5 vols. London, 1939 – 1974: 1(1939):75, 76.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 154, repro.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. Supplement to the Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1946: 55, repro.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 112, color repro.
Löhneysen, Hans Wolfgang von. “Die ikonographischen und geistesgeschichtlichen Voraussetzungen der Sieben Sakramente des Nicolas Poussin.” Zeitschrift für Religions — und Geistesgeschichte 4 (1952): 133-150.
Wildenstein, Georges. “Les graveurs de Poussin au XVIIe siecle.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, 46(Sept. – Dec. 1955): 143-144. (Reprint Paris, 1957, as Les graveurs de Poussin au xvii e siècle.)
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 338, repro.
Mahon, Denis. “Poussiniana: Afterthoughts Arising from the Exhibition.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, 60 (July – Aug. 1962): 1 – 138. Reprint New York, 1962: 106-109, 114.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 315, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 105.
Blunt, Anthony. The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin. A Critical Catalogue. 2 vols. London, 1966: no. 105.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:288, color repro.
Friedlaender, Walter. Nicolas Poussin: A New Approach. New York, 1966: 56-57, 62.
Blunt, Anthony. Nicolas Poussin: The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (1958). 2 vols. New York, 1967. Reprint London, 1995: 115, 159, 188, 244.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 93, repro.
Badt, Kurt. Die Kunst des Nicolas Poussin. 2 vols. Cologne, 1969: no. 205.
Brejon de Lavergnée, Arnauld. “Tableaux de Poussin et d’autres artistes français dans la collection dal Pozzo: deux inventaires inédits.” Revue de l'Art 19 (1973): 76 – 96.
Thuillier, Jacques. L’opera completa di Poussin. Milan, 1974. French ed., Tout l’oeuvre peint de Poussin. Paris, 1974: no. 113.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 274, repro.
Jaffé, Michael. “Poussin and Reni.” In Études d’art français offertes à Charles Sterling. Ed. A. Châtelet and N. Reynaud. Paris, 1975: 216.
Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. Le vite de’ pittori, scultori, ed architetti moderni. Rome, 1672. Reprint Turin, 1976. Ed. Evelina Borea: 431-433.
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 271-274, fig. 250.
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 72, pl. 58.
Wild, Doris. Nicolas Poussin. 2 vols. Zürich, 1980: 2: no. 105.
Brigstocke, Hugh. “Nicolas Poussin and Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Study of the Seven Holy Sacraments.” Apollo 114 (1981): 373-376.
Bell, Janis. “Color and Theory in Seicento Art: Zaccolini’s ‘Prospettiva del colore’ and the Heritage of Leonardo.” 2 vols. PhD diss., Brown University, 1983: 131-133.
Goldfarb, Hilliard T. “A Highly Important Poussin Acquisition and Chantelou’s Seven Sacrament Series.” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art (Oct. 1984): 292.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 317, no. 417, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 318, repro.
Wright, Christopher. Poussin Paintings. A Catalogue Raisonné. London, 1985: no. 111.
Mérot, Alain. Nicolas Poussin. New York, 1990: no. 108.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 163, repro.
Bell, Janis. “Zaccolini’s Theory of Color Perspective.” The Art Bulletin 75 (March 1993): 95.
Carrier, David. Poussin’s Paintings: A Study in Art-Historical Methodology. University Park, Pa., 1993: 191, 197, 199, 252.
Rosenberg, Pierre, and Antoine Prat. Nicolas Poussin, 1594 – 1665: catalogue raisonné des dessins. 2 vols. Milan, 1994: 1: nos. 109, 110.
Thuillier, Jacques. Nicolas Poussin. Paris, 1994: no. 130.
Cropper, Elizabeth, and Charles Dempsey. Nicolas Poussin: Friendship and the Love of Painting. Princeton, 1996: 109-144.
Sénéchal, Philippe. “Fortune de quelques antiques Farnese aupres des peintres a Rome au début du XVIIe siecle.” In Poussin et Rome. Actes du colloque à l’Académie de France à Rome et à la Bibliotheca Hertziana. Ed. Oliver Bonfait. Paris and Rome, 1996: 38-39.
Bernstock, Judith. Poussin and French Dynastic Ideology. New York, 2000: 249-277.
Green, Tony. Nicolas Poussin Paints the Seven Sacraments Twice. England, 2000: 78-93.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 178-179, no. 140, color repro.
Baillio, Joseph, et al. The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier. A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, 2005: 52, fig. 15, 71(not in the exhibition).
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 2009: no. 83, 379-388, color repro.
Vogel, Carol. "Inside Art: A Christie's Loss Is the Kimbell's Gain." New York Times 160, no. 55,523 (September 9, 2011): C23.
Kimbell Art Museum. "Recent Acquisition: The Sacrament of Ordination by Nicholas Poussin." Calendar, February through August 2012: 17, color repro.
Unglaub, Jonathan W. Poussin's Sacrament of Ordination: History, Faith, and the Sacred Landscape. Fort Worth, 2013: 21, color fig. 17.
Burnett, Craig. "Stripped back -- how a figure freed up Poussin's painting." Apollo (26 September 22): repro.

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