Skip to main content

N. Poussin

CAT 136 Cooke after Julien N. Poussin BA 122.jpg

CAT 136. George Cooke after Pierre Julien. N. Poussin, marble, 1789-1804. London: Vernor, Hood & Sharpe, Dec 1, 1809.  Frontispiece in Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings, vol. 6, 1810.

This statue was engraved as the frontispiece for volume 6 of the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings in 1810. This image had a double meaning in that volume, for it celebrated not only the painterly achievement of Nicolas Poussin in the middle of the seventeenth century but also the sculptural achievement of Pierre Julien in the early nineteenth-century—when he completed in 1804 the sculpture of Poussin he had begun in 1789. The accompanying text in the Historic Gallery emphasized that Julien had died only three months after exhibiting the sculpture in the Louvre (n.p.).

The statue of Poussin engraved by Cooke is considered to be one of two masterpieces by Pierre Julien (1731-1804). The other is his earlier full-length statue of La Fontaine, completed in 1785. Julien had depicted La Fontaine (whose Fables Melville owned in an edition illustrated by J. J. Grandeville: Sealts, no. 314a) “in seventeenth-century costume,” but his statue of Poussin “cleverly depicted the painter in his night-clothes, permitting Julien to carve simplified monumental drapery that might pass for a Classical toga” (Worley 683). This treatment, combined with the open line engraving used throughout the Historic Gallery, brought Poussin into pictorial communion with the engravings of antique Greek and Roman busts that Melville collected from the same publication (CAT 6-14, CAT 70-77). 

Allan Melvill, Herman’s father, had visited the Louvre during his grand tour of 1802-03, shortly before Julien’s completed sculpture was installed there. He presumably would have seen Julien’s sculpture at the Louvre when he returned to London and Paris in 1818, a year before his son Herman was born—and two years before the seven-volume edition of the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings was published by Vernor, Hood, & Sharpe in London. Three decades later, Herman Melville would have seen Julien’s Poussin (fig. 1) among the “heaps of treasures of art of all sorts” by which he was surrounded at the Louvre on November 30, 1849. This museum’s “admirable collection of antique statuary,” the young novelist wrote in his diary, “beats the British Museum” (NN J 31).

CAT 136 fig 1 Pierre_Julien_Poussin wikimedia.jpg

Figure 1. Pierre Julien, Nicolas Poussin, marble, 1787-1804. The Louvre, Paris.

Cooke’s engraving after Julian’s marble statue in an antique pose goes well with Melville’s image of Poussin “with antiqued air, / Complexioned like a marble old” in “At the Hostelry” (NN BBO 164). The face shaped by Julien in the statue seems to be that of the younger Poussin who dashed off the fanciful “poesies” based on Titian’s bacchanals in the 1630s rather than the graver man in the painter’s self-portraits of 1649 and 1650, each famously engraved by Antoine Pesne (whose portrait of the engraver G. F. Schmidt entered Melville’s collection in an engraving by W. French: see CAT 162). Cooke’s outline engraving of Julien’s statue is so detailed that you can almost make out the subject that the marbled artist is sketching, Poussin’s Will of Eudamidas (Rosenberg, Nicolas Poussin, p. 101; HG 6: n.p.).

Other landmarks early in Julien’s career were a “reduced copy” in marble of “the antique statue Ariadne Abandoned, then known as Cleopatra,” for Versailles, and a marble statue of The Dying Gladiator for the Louvre (Worley 683). This side of his career is likely to have appealed not only to Melville but to his wife Elizabeth, whose memorandum of domestic possessions compiled after his death included notes on “the celebrated sculpture of ‘Ariadne sleeping’ formerly called Cleopatra” (Sealts, Early Lives, 175). Notes made by their granddaughter Eleanor in a copy of Mardi indicated that Melville also owned a terra cotta sculpture of The Dying Gladiator (email to the author from Dennis Marnon).