Poussin in Avignon

Baroque Era Art History:

While the majority of art historians teach their students that Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with Saint John on Patmos is an imagined scene, WRL presents a plausible argument that the natural scenery may actually be of Rocher des Doms in Avignon, France with a view of Mount Ventoux in the distance. This argument locates yet another of the artist’s landscape paintings in France whereas the majority of his work was, for personal political reasons, created in Italy around Rome. From an esoteric point of view, if this work by Poussin is of a real scene in the south of France, then it could present a measurable basis from which one of the presumably ancient riddles found in a pillar of Rennes le Chateau could be solved. These implications suggest that of the several riddles allegedly found late in the 19th century, the cipher contained in the Saint John text may not have been part of the discovered hoax. A copy of the French riddle gleaned from the Saint John text along with an English translation can be found following the main research paper below.

A Potential Topographic Reference for Landscape with Saint John on Patmos:

With no definitive topographic reference established for Poussin’s painting titled Landscape with Saint John on Patmos (Fig.1), T. Olson has implied it is a possible representation of the Roman campagna1; and, decades ago, A. Blunt seemed to reason the composition may be entirely imagined2.

Figure 1

Recently, when looked at with a new light, many similarities were observed between the painting and a view from a cliff in the southern French city of Avignon. The details presented here will demonstrate the remarkable consistencies of Poussin’s landscape with a vista from Rocher des Doms facing generally northeast which includes the wide meandering Rhône River; the locally well known lofty peak of Mont Ventoux dominating the background; and, in the distance, architecture of Roman construction still extant today in Orange.

Blending Reality with the Imagined

Landscape with Saint John on Patmos (Saint John) is thought to be the second painting of an unfinished series apparently commissioned by the cupbearer of Pope Urban VIII, Gian Maria Roscioli.3 There is a general consensus among scholars that the background of Poussin’s Landscape with Saint Matthew and Angel (Saint Matthew, Fig.2), the first of the Evangelist series to be completed, is based on an actual topographic reference.4

Figure 2

It is believed Poussin essentially reproduced with minor alteration the beautiful natural scenery of the campagna’s Tiber River valley a few kilometers from Rome near the fountain of Acqua Acetosa and the Milvian Bridge. “The site is clearly identifiable today,” according to Blunt.2 Poussin’s monolithic geometric Greco-Roman forms which balance the scene and symbolize his love of the lost classical age of reason are, however, often considered to be entirely imagined. So the Saint Matthew is a composition of the series that merges an identifiable natural landscape with imagined figures performing upon Poussin’s canvas stage.

Keeping this observation in mind while turning1 to the Saint John (the second and last of the unfinished series), it seems plausible that Poussin would engage in a similar methodology, specifically, blending a tangible landscape with carefully chosen classical elements to declare his moral, ethical, and philosophical statements. This technique is apparently typical and seen in other works by the artist.

With these contextual facts demonstrated in Poussin’s work, we can now turn our attention to an analysis of the Saint John by comparing its landscape to the natural topography northeast of Avignon.