Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), The Testament of Eudamidas, 1644-1648
Poussin is the painter-philosopher of the 17th century. His works were mainly created in Rome, a place dominated by the Italian Baroque with its focus on sensuousness and effect. In sharp contrast to this style, Poussin’s clear imagery stands out.
An interest in classical stoicism
The period’s interest in thought and enlightenment took many forms, one of them being a keen interest in classical stoicism, a school of philosophy focusing on reason and moral argument.
In the writings of the ancient scholar Lucian, stoicism presented itself in the story of Eudamidas’ exemplary friendship with two other citizens in Corinth who assumed responsibility for his mother and daughter after his death as stipulated in his will.
A portrait of Eudamidas' friendship
Poussin’s picture of the dying Eudamidas dictating his will to a scribe presents this ideal friendship with imagery as clear as the value of Eudamidas’ friendship is obvious.
The pinnacle of pathos organised rationally
The figures are clearly rendered in local colours that make them stand apart from their surroundings. From Eudamidas’ face, contorted in pain as it is, to the doctor’s absent-minded expression as he places a hand on his patient and onwards to the daughter’s careworn face, the artist gives us clear directions on how to interpret the events in the picture. It represents the very pinnacle of pathos, yet it uses rationally organised means to do so.