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Saint Cecilia
Poussin, Nicolas
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Poussin, Nicolas

Les Andelys, Normandy, 1594 - Rome, 1665

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Saint Cecilia

Ca. 1635. Oil on canvas.
Room 004

Cecelia, patron saint of music, sits before a harpsichord that rests on a pedestal conceived as a sculpture, reading a score held by two child angels. She is wrapped in ocher robes that partially hide her blue tunic. Behind her, two young singers read another score while, in the upper left corner, the fifth figure, a child, raises an ample curtain whose mass is balanced by a column. The background is a broad landscape under a cloudy sky.

Cecelia, a virgin and martyr, must have lived during the 2nd or 3d century after Christ. Her basilica in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood contains her relics, which are considered genuine. She made vows of chastity, even after marrying Valerianus, the Roman nobleman who baptized her. Her patronage of music is based on the story of her life. Tradition has it that, at her fiancé’s house, she heard the sounds of musical instruments but was not distracted from her permanent thoughts of God, whom she invoked in her heart.

The attribution of this work to Nicolas Poussin was formerly questioned -some historians attributed it to Charles Mellin- but today no one doubts its authorship, although the master may have made it in collaboration with assistants from his studio. It has been dated from before the Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus (Rome, Vatican Museums), a spectacular canvas that is probably somewhat later. The saint’s face appears in other paintings by Poussin from this period or slightly earlier, including the Holy Family with Saint John and Saint Elizabeth (Moscow, Puskin Museum) and the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (Edinburgh, National Gallery). Poussin’s Immaculate Conception and two different depictions of Saint John were supposedly sent to Spain by Marcantonio Borghese. Were they every found, they would make it possible to establish a solid basis for the undoubted attribution of the painting to Poussin. This painting of Saint Cecelia as of great quality, firm execution, confident drawing, refined color and compositional elegance.

Nothing is known of its history before its mention in the inventory of Madrid’s Alcázar Palace in 1734, so it may have been acquired by King Philip V, who purchased various works by Poussin on the European art market, particularly in Amsterdam. Some of those works belong to the Museo del Prado (Text drawn from Luna, J. J.: El Prado en el Ermitage, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 106-107).

Technical data

Inventory number
Poussin, Nicolas
Saint Cecilia
Ca. 1635
Height: 117.7 cm; Width: 89 cm
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de comer la serenísima infanta", 1772, n. 334; Royal Palace, Madrid, "dormitorio de príncipes-pieza décima", 1814-1818, s.n.).

Bibliography +

Dussieux, Louis, Les artistes français a L'etranger, Lecogne Fils et Cie, París, 1876, pp. 382.

Mabilleau, Léopold, La peinture française au Musée de Madrid, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, abril, París, 1895, pp. 307 y 311.

Nicolle, Marcel, La peinture française au Musée du Prado, Perrin et Cie, París, 1925, pp. 33.

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier, Salas de Pintura Francesa, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1925, pp. 12.

Wild, Doris, Poussin-Studien zum ersten Jahrzehnt in Rom, Pantheon, 18, 3, Múnich, 1960, pp. 158.

Wild, Doris, Charles Mellin ou Nicolas Poussin, Gazette des beaux-arts, octubre, 1966, pp. 177-214 (209 y 211).

Blunt, Anthony, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin. A Critical Catalogue, Phaidon, Londres, 1966, pp. 66, n. 96.

Gaya Nuño, Juan Antonio, Historia y guía de los museos de España, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1968, pp. 413.

Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique, El Prado. Escuelas italiana y francesa, Aguilar, Madrid, 1970, pp. 310.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España, VI, Madrid, 1972, pp. 45.

Blunt, Anthony, The Literature of Art: The Complete Poussin, The Burlington magazine, 116, 861, 1974, pp. 762.

Thuillier, Jacques, La obra pictorica completa de Poussin, Noguer, Barcelona, 1975.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 410.

Oberhuber, Konrad, Poussin: the early years in Rome : the origins of french cla, PhaidonChristie's, Oxford, 1988.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds Mercator Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 546.

Benito Olmos, Aurora, Arte y música en el Museo del Prado, Fundación Argentaria Visor, Madrid, 1997, pp. 130.

Marcenaro, Giuseppe, Viaggio in Italia. Un Corteo Magico Dal Cinquecento al Novec, Electa, Milano, 2001.

Freedberg, D., Apolo, David, Santa Cecilia: música y pintura en algunas obras de Poussin en el Prado. En Historias inmortales, Barcelona, 2003, pp. 239-260.

De Tiziano a Goya: grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado: SEACEX, Madrid, 2007, pp. 260.

Wright, Christopher, Poussin: paintings, a catalogue raisonné, Chaucer Press, 2007, pp. 93.

El Prado en el Hermitage, Museo Estatal del Hermitage: Museo del Prado, 2011, pp. 106-107.

Characteristics of the canvases used by Nicolas Poussin, Kermes. La rivista del restauro, 94-95, 2015, pp. 119-123 [121].

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1023.
Nicolás Poussin. / 1023. Santa Cecilia. / Está acompañada de varios angeles cantando alabanzas al señor. / Alto 4 pies, 2 pulg; ancho 3 pies, 2 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1023.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2047.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1972. Núm. 2317.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 2317.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 334.
Pieza de comer la Serma. Infanta [...] {12924} 334 / Otro [quadro] que representa santa Cecilia tocando vn clave con varios niños que la tienen los libros de música de vara y tres quartas de alto y vna vara de ancho

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Dormitorio de Principes [...] Pieza Decima [...] {21800} dos varas de alto cinco quartas de ancho Sta. Cecilia tocando el organo varios angeles que le tienen el libro de musica - Escuela del Pusino

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Laudate [¿?] dominum
Inscribed in black. Front, center

Exhibitions +

El Prado en el Hermitage
San Petersburgo
25.02.2011 - 29.05.2011

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

Viaggio in Italia
30.03.2001 - 29.07.2001

Early Poussin in Rome: the Origins of French Classicism
Fort Worth
24.09.1988 - 27.11.1988

Location +

Room 004 (On Display)

Update date: 24-06-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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