The Plague in Ashdod by Poussin

The Plague in Ashdod by Poussin
The Plague in Ashdod by Poussin

This oil painting was painted on canvas by Nicolás Poussin between 1630 and 1631, and it refers to an actual plague plague that occurred in Europe during a great part of the 17th century.

The work is currently kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

It goes without saying that the great French painter of the Baroque did not travel to places affected by the plague to make this canvas. To paint it he resorted to a passage from the Old Testament, specifically recounted in theBook of Samuel. A passage that was quoted numerous times in those years.


Poussin's Ashdod Plague

In this biblical account it is said that the Philistines had stolen one of the great treasures of the religion of the Hebrews, the famous Ark of the Covenant, where they are supposed to be kept the tablets with the Ten Commandments. So for such an affront, God sent the plague to the Philistines.

However, although it was based on that passage from the Bible, the setting that Poussin makes for his work is typical of the 17th century, using the clothes of the time, the architectures and gestures and desperate situations that were described from that plague that was beginning to spread through northern Italy. A place from which it was to spread throughout the continent, especially by means of the troops of soldiers and their constant movements due tothe incessant Thirty Years' War that raged across much of Europe.

But, when Poussin paints this work, the pandemic has not yet reached such heights and is reduced to territories of northern Italy. And precisely then, the French painter lived in Italy, yes, in his capital,Rome.

Poussin is one of the leading exponents of European Baroque painting with great works such as The Dance of Time, Orpheus and Euridice or Et in Arcadia Ego. And of course in this work of The Plague in Ashdod many of the qualities of his art are present, such as the handling of architecture as if they were theatrical curtains that give depth and set scenes of the more dynamic with numerous characters.

However, there are also some high-quality notes of realism in this painting. For example, he dwells on the aspect of the corpses affected by the plague, and does not hesitate to introduce us to the rats running through the streets and even emerging from those very dead.

Poussin stops to paint each of the characters in detail, especially those plagued, and resorts to the use of unnatural colors, such as very gray bodies or expressionist gestures to give the terrible sensation of the epidemic. In fact, it seems that the artist has proposed that we can smell it and cover our noses as several of the characters represented do.

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