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The Hunt of Meleager
Poussin, Nicolas
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Poussin, Nicolas

Les Andelys, Normandy, 1594 - Rome, 1665

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The Hunt of Meleager

1634 - 1639. Oil on canvas.
Room 003

Until very recently there was total confusion as to the origin of this painting and the circumstances surrounding its entry into the Royal Collection. Its original owner was formerly thought to have been Cassiano dal Pozzo, an erudite Italian contemporary of Nicolas Poussin whose collection did, indeed, include a work with similar characteristics. Since 2005, however, the generally accepted hypothesis is that it was one of the paintings commissioned in Rome to decorate the Buen Retiro Palace. This idea is supported by the fact that it is listed among paintings of that origin in the testament of Charles II (1701), as well as by its unusual size and format, which appear in no other painting by this artist and even caused doubts about its authorship. This was, however, a customary format among paintings for the Buen Retiro, and Poussin was the most important artist involved in that project. He was the only artist to paint works for two of its series: the History of Ancient Rome and Classical Landscapes, the latter for which he painted his well-known Landscape with Saint Jerome, c.1637 (Museo del Prado). Poussin was also responsible for contracting Jean Lemaire and Gaspard Dughet for the Buen Retiro, and he painted at least one other canvas for the Buen Retiro’s ancient Rome series. Dance in honour of Priapus, c.1637, now at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, appears listed in Spain’s Royal Collections until 1811, but its relation to the painting in the Museo del Prado, and the meaning of both, are unclear.

The story portrayed in this canvas appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Oeneus, king of Calydon, offended Diana, who sent a giant wild boar to his kingdom to destroy its farmland and terrify its inhabitants. The monarch’s young son, Meleager, formed a group to hunt down the beast, including such well-known figures as Jason, Peleus, and the brothers Castor and Pollux, as well as the very beautiful Atalanta, with whom Meleager fell in love. Poussin depicts the beginning of the hunt, before they enter a thick forest and Atalanta and Meleager become isolated from the group, but find and kill the boar. The young prince recognises Atalanta’s bravery and strength, and gives her the animal’s head and pelt. This honour prompts the ire of his uncles, whom he then kills. On discovering the death of her brothers, Meleager’s mother Althea plots vengeance against her own son, resulting in his death and her suicide due to the pain of losing him.

In the painting Atalanta is the figure dressed in blue, with long blonde tresses. Identifying Meleager is more difficult, however. Rather than the young man at the centre of the composition, dressed in a yellow tunic and riding a white horse, he must be the figure to the far right, slightly further back than the central figure. Meleager appears to be urging his servant to finish his work so he can depart with the rest of the group. As usual with Poussin, the classical setting, clothing, weapons and decorative elements are reasonably believable in their evocation of classical Antiquity. In the woods that fill the background stands a statue of Pan with a man’s head and torso, and a goat’s legs and horns. This god of gardens and forests probably alludes to the hunt. Diana, the goddess responsible for the tragedy, appears in the centre (Luna, J. J. in: El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, pp. 169-170; 224-225).


Technical data

Inventory number
Poussin, Nicolas
The Hunt of Meleager
1634 - 1639
Height: 160 cm; Width: 360 cm
Historia de Roma Antigua, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, 1794, no. 508; Royal Palace, Madrid, "secretaría de Estado", 1814-1818, no. 508).

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 311-312.

Lefort, Paul, Les Musées de Madrid. Le Prado, San Fernando, L'Armeria, Gazette des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1896, pp. 169.

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. 12-13.

Bottineau, Yves, L'art de la cour dans l'Espagne de Philippe V: 1700-1746, Féret & fils, Burdeos, 1962, pp. 219.

Blunt, Anthony, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin. A Critical Catalogue, Phaidon, Londres, 1966, pp. 118.

Gaya Nuño, J. A., Historia y guía de los museos de España, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1968, pp. 412.

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.

Bermejo de la Rica, A., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Editora Nacional, Madrid, 1974, pp. 64.

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

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc, Nueva York. Londres, 1986, pp. 286/ lám.1071.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 501.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds Mercator Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 544.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El ciclo de la Historia de Roma antigua, En: El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 169-189.

Úbeda de los Cobos, A., El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 224-225.

Goeppert, S., Pablo Picasso. The Illustrated Books : Catalogue Raisonne, Patrick Cramer, Madrid, 2005, pp. 224-225.

Luna, Juan J., Nicolas Poussin en el Museo del Prado. La caza de Meleagro y Atalanta' en In sapientia libertas : escritos en homenaje al profesor Alf..., Museo Nacional del Prado: Fundac, Madrid, 2007, pp. 342.

Wright, Christopher, Poussin: paintings, a catalogue raisonné, Chaucer Press, 2007, pp. 46.

Poussin : restauraçao : Hymeneus travestido assistindo a uma..., Imprenta Oficial del Estado de Sa, 2009, pp. 44-63.

Pierguidi, Stefano, Il ciclo dei costumi dei romani antichi del Buen Retiro di Madrid, Storia dell arte, 125/6, 2010, pp. 82.

Roma naturaleza e ideal: paisajes 1600-1650, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 188.

Ubeda de los Cobos, A, Nicolas Poussin 'The hunt of Atalanta and Meleager' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 200.

Vergara, Alejandro, 'Comentario ', En: Pasiones mitológicas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2021, pp. 150-151 nº 23.

Falomir, M, Tiziano y las 'poesías'. Experimentación y libertad en la pintura mitológica, Pasiones mitológicas: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2021, pp. 15-39 [36].

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1050.
Nicolas Poussin. / 1050. Caza de Meleagro. / Meleagro se olvidó de sacrificar a Diana, la cual para vengarse de este desaire envió un feroz jabalí a asolar el país de Caledonia. Reúnense los príncipes griegos para matar al monstruo y marchan a su cabeza el joven Meleagro y la heroica Atalanta, hija de Jasius, rey de Arcadia, que fue la primera que hirió al jabalí. Llevan ambos gallardos y fogosos caballos blancos. Fondo: hermoso país, en el cual se ve el simulacro en mármol de Diana, diosa de la caza, y el de Pan, divinidad de los bosques. / Alto 5 pies, 8 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 1 pie, 2 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1050.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2051.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 2320.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 2320.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 508.
Otra [pintura] de Nicolas Pusino, con una marcha y peltrechos de Caza de Dona, y dos Estatuas del Dios Pan y Diana, de quatro varas de largo, y dos de alto, marco dorado...20.000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 508.
Secretaría de Estado [...] {22245} 508 / Dos varas de alto cuatro y media de largo, caceria de un Emperador romano vestido de azul y caballo blanco = del Pusino

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Mythological Passions: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez
02.03.2021 - 04.07.2021

On Tour through Spain
26.11.2018 - 08.12.2019

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

El palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro
06.07.2005 - 30.10.2005

Location +

Room 003 (On Display)

Update date: 03-02-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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