Nicolas Poussin 1593/94 – 1665

Seven sacraments: ordination

oil on canvas (96 × 122 cm) — 1636-1639 Museum Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (Texas)

Nicolas Poussin biography

This work is linked to Matthew 16:19

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Between 1636 and 1640, while staying in Rome, Poussin made his first series of paintings on the Seven Sacraments. He was commissioned by Cassiano dal Pozzo, an Italian scholar.

This work is about the ordination. In the catholic church ordination now refers to the appointment of priests and bishops. But Poussin here shows the first ordination: Peter's. Jesus hands him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. That moment is generally seen as the founding of the catholic church, with Peter as its first head.

A sacrament can be described as an important moment in the catholic church. The other six are baptism, penance, eucharist (including communion), confirmation, and matrimony.

Jesus points to heaven. Poussin gave the apostles colourful gowns in pastel colours. Peter kneels, while the others watch, obviously aware of the importance of the moment. To the far right is Jude; John is third from the right. Special in the composition is that all figures have their own bearing.

Poussin may have been inspired by a tapestry Raphael made: Feed my Sheep.

Another painting in this series: Baptism.

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