Landscape with Saint John on Patmos

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Landscape with Saint John on Patmos, Nicolas Poussin, 1640

Sometime near the end of his life, Saint John, exiled to the island of Patmos, authored the Book of Revelation, an apocalyptic text derived from God-given visions and a key element of the Christian religion. For the most part, Revelation doesn't contain a whole lot of hope. Seas turning to blood, plagues and pestilence, wars and famines, and destruction on excessive scales fill the majority of the text. Since Saint John appears to be writing something in this picture, I don't find it illogical to assume that he's transcribing his visions to parchment. One might assume that, after seeing such horrific visions, one would be, at the least, agitated, if not straight-up insane. However, John lounges comfortably among the serene ruins of Patmos, unbothered by the impending death of millions. Perhaps, because of his dedication to his faith, he believes he'll survive the end of the world unscathed. Perhaps John is mentally unstable. We shall never know.

Nicolas Poussin, although native to France, spent the majority of his artistic career studying in Italy, where he became familiar with classical Roman architecture, which consequently found its way into his artwork. Poussin crafts a painting that guides the eye through each layer. He begins by highlighting the foreground with the figure of Saint John wearing warm, bright colors and inserting bold, powerfully illustrated ruins rich with age. The two clusters of trees frame the middle ground as a river weaves its way through the landscape, leading the eye towards the architecture in the background. The gathering of marble is consequently upstaged by the majestic mountain that thrusts upward, which combines with the rest of the piece to create an irresistible forward movement and almost tangible depth.

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