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Poussin: The Sacraments

Eucharist, Confirmation and Marriage, three exceptional works from from Nicolas Poussin’s first series of the Seven Sacraments, painted between 1637 and 1642 are now hanging at Dulwich. Generously lent by the Duke of Rutland’s Trustees, these masterpieces of religious painting are shown amongst Dulwich’s own outstanding collection of works by the French master.

The Seven Sacraments were commissioned by Poussin’s Roman friend and patron Cassiano dal Pozzo in the mid-1630s as a set, each depicting the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. They consisted of the rites of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination and Marriage. Poussin and dal Pozzo picked the scenes of Christian life that would best exemplify the rituals of the Sacraments illustrating them with scenes from the New Testament, or the earliest days of Christianity. The Pozzo series was extremely famous in its day. When acquired by the 4th Duke of Rutland in 1786 they counted amongst the finest works in the Duke’s collection.

Sir Joshua Reynolds championed their acquisition and arranged for the paintings to be put in their current classical frames, which he even possibly designed. Unfortunately, their integrity as a set was broken when Penance was destroyed in a fire in 1816 and later when Baptism was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1946. More recently Ordination was acquired by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 2011, and Extreme Unction by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 2012.

The display is complemented by the addition of the Dulwich’s newly-conserved Nurture of Bacchus, long thought to be an 18th century copy but now, thanks to technical analysis carried out at the National Gallery, can be firmly dated to the 1620s. It is highly likely that the Dulwich painting was painted in Poussin’s studio by a gifted assistant while Poussin was working on his autograph version now in the National Gallery.


Come along to one of curator Helen Hillyard's two free tours taking in the Sacraments as well as the Gallery's current Ruben's display

Thursday 2 June & Saturday 4 June, 11am: meet in Gallery X11 by the Poussin's

Event details

Start date
16 May 2016
10am - 5pm, Tuesday - Sunday (Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays)
Included in entry to the Permanent Collection