• Et in Arcadia Ego

Et in Arcadia Ego

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Et in Arcadia ego
Artist: Nicolas Poussin
Oil painting; Size: 121x185cm; Louvre, Paris.

The painting Et in Arcadia ego was probably executed around 1640 by Poussin. The theme of the tomb in Arcadia had already appeared in Virgil and in the Renaissance was taken up by the Neapolitan poet Sannazzaro in his pastoral poem Arcadia, published in 1502. The words ET IN ARCADIA EGO do not have a precise classical source, and have been interpreted in two different ways: they could mean "I [buried here] was in Arcadia too," or refer to Death itself, who says "Even in Arcadia I am": in the first case the composition would be a reminder of the transience of life, while in the second the accent would be placed on the universality of death, which spares nothing, not even the place of happiness par excellence, Arcadia. The first representation of this theme is by Guercino (Palazzo Barberini, Rome), and shows two shepherds coming by chance upon a tomb with a skull on top of it. Poussin adopted the same iconography, with a few variants, in a picture painted around 1629-1630 and now in the Chatsworth Collection in Great Britain. The oil painting version in the Louvre is characterized by the different tone of the narration: here there is no excitement or amazement, and neither does the tomb seem to have been discovered by chance: the shepherds who read the inscription and meditate on it are accompanied by a woman, who in the earlier work was a youthful Flora in the Titianesque manner but here takes on the reserved and severe appearance of an ancient priestess with a beautiful classical profile.

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