Although it has sometimes seemed that Judgment Day would come sooner than the completion of the new British Library building at St Pancras, the date currently given for the Libraryns removal from the British Museum is the end of 1996. No-one can view the prospect of its departure without regret. This is not simply a question of sentimental attachment to Panizzi's round reading room. More profoundly, the Museum's and the Library's histories have been so intimately interwoven that the physical sundering of their collections will be intellectually painful - particularly for the Depart- ment of Prints and Drawings, whose holdings were arbitrarily distinguished from those of the Library at an early stage.
As Anthony Blunt once complained, people frequently write about Poussin's Bacchanals 'as if it was the most normal thing in the world for a painter to choose such themes in the 1630s, but the fact is that there were remarkably few precedents for this practice, and hardly any in the immediately preceding decades'.l The most important precedents were Titian's Aldobrandini Bacchanals, and Annibale Carracci's Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne in the centre of the Farnese ceiling. But the iconography of Poussin's Bacchanals differs from that of Titian and Annibale in several respects: unlike the loosely related group of paintings for Alfonso d'Este to which Titian contributed, Poussin's series concentrates on Bacchus and his companions, Pan and Silenus; Ariadne, the companion of Bacchus in Annibale's Triumph and the joint subject of Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, is absent from the series, although Hercules, a more surprising participant, appears in Poussin's Triumph of Bacchus (Fig.3). These peculiarities may partially be explained by the fact that Poussin's painting emerged from studies for an Indian friumph of Bacchus.2 But Bacchus's Indian triumph is itself an unusual theme, and we are left with a singularly puzzling group of pictures: a series of Bacchanals comprising a Triumph of BacchusTriumph of Pan (Fig.7) and complemented by a Triumph of Silenus (Fig.9), plus, perhaps associated with this group, a Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrate (Fig.8).
which is paired with a
Since it first came to light, there has been much discussion of the Adoration of the Golden Calf (Fig.ll) now in the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco,l though this has centred exclusively on its date and authorship. When discovered and published in 1919 by J.H. Johnstone,2 the painting bore a signature and a date which has been interpreted in different ways; in 1957 the last digit became scarcely legible as a result of a somewhat harsh cleaning.3 Some scholars have deciphered the date) following Johnstone's reading, as 1629,4 while others, following Martin Davies and Denis Mahon, read it as 1626.5
A pen-and-wash drawing of Rinaldo and Armida from the Payne Knight collection in the British Museum (Fig.l9), is sometimes attributed to Poussin himself, and was exhibited as such in the 1990-91 exhibition of Poussin drawings held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.l Konrad Oberhuber has expressed the view that it is an initial study for the painting in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow (inv.2762),2 but, while the drawing certainly represents the same incident from Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata (XIV, 15fE.), the two compositions are quite different. The purpose of this note is to draw attention to a painting in the Arkhangelskoye Museum near Moscow (inv. P-287; Fig.18), which resembles the drawing much more closely.
There has been much discussion of the importance that should be attached to the visual sources Poussin made use of in his paintings and the manner in which he drew from the artistic heritage available to him. It may be useful, therefore, to add another borrowing to those already known, one that occurs in the Louvre's Judgment of Solomon painted for Jean Pointel in 1649 (Fig.26), a picture which, as the catalogue to the current exhibition in Paris emphasises, is among the artist's most important works and has consequently provoked a variety of interpretations.
Jacques Bullart's eulogy of Poussin, written in 1699, is preserved in the Bibliotheque Municipale at Lille (see the Appendix below).l The text is no more than a curiosity, perhaps, but it may be added to the corpus of seventeenth-century writings on Poussin,2 and is not without interest for the artist's critical fortune. It is one of a modest group of writings by Jacques Bullart on French artists of which the others, also appended below, concern Charles Le Brun, Henri Testelin, Pierre Mignard and Adam Frans Van der Meulen.
The recent rediscovery of Caravaggio's Taking of Christ (Fig.30), previously known only through copies and derivations and now on permanent loan to the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and its identification as the work for which Caravaggio was paid 125 scudi by the Marchese Ciriaco Mattei on 2nd January 1603,' provides an occasion to consider the traditions Caravaggio may have drawn on while painting it, and to re-examine its genesis. At the beginning of this century: it was an art-historical commonplace that Caravaggio rejected the artistic traditions of his time, and this notion still informs much of what is written about him, despite occasional indications of his indebtedness to previous works of art.2 The Taking of Christ is indeed an extraordinary work, which has no clear precedents; yet, despite its iconographical innovations - of a piece with others that Caravaggio introduced into seventeenth- century European painting- it is nevertheless clear that the artist also looked beyond nature to earlier images of the subject. Moretto's St Peter Martyr in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, and a dancing nymph on a sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums have already been put forward as specific sources for the running figure at the left edge of the painting;3 and in more general terms the works of Lotto have been evoked, as have such Lombard prototypes such as Cariani's Road to Cavalry in the Pinacoteca at Brescia,4 and a Lombardo-Venetian tradition has also beerl cited as the stimulus for Caravaggio's use of an horizontal picture format with half-length figures. Despite the fact that the composition, if not the original painting, has been known to scholars for many years, it has, however, not yet been noticed that the central configuration of Caravaggio's image was clearly developed from Durer's woodcut of the subject in the so-called 'Small Passion' series (Fig.29).
'L'exposition du Grand Palais a pour seale ambition de reunir les plus beaux tableaux et les plus beaux dessins de l'artiste,' writes Pierre Rosenberg.' This differentiates it slightly from the other great monographic exhibitions dedicated to such French old-master painters as Georges de la Tour, the Le Nain brothers, Vouet, Watteau and Chardin, which have been held in Paris over the past thirty-five years, beginning with Poussin himself in 1960. With those exhibitions, the object was to gather together as many of the artist's works as practicable, problem pictures and all. By being more selective in 1994, Rosenberg presents a clearer and more coherent overall image, an image calculated to impress the general public and specialists alike with the awe-inspiring grandeur of Poussin's achievement; and in this he triumphantly succeeds. Poussin comes across as an artist of overwhelming beauty, inventiveness and power, and it is to be hoped that this will be no less apparent when the show, albeit in a somewhat truncated form, transfers to the Royal Academy this month (19thJanuary to 9th April).