Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego

Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego, 1637-38, oil on canvas, 87 x 120 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:03] We’re in the Louvre, and we’re looking at a Nicholas Poussin, “Et in Arcadia Ego.” We have four figures. We see ancient shepherds and a very classical female figure.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:15] Clearly based on ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, as are all the figures, actually, and that treatment of the drapery that looks back to ancient Greece and the Classical period.

Dr. Zucker: [0:26] Right in the center, the largest, most dominant form is a tomb, this huge, solid block of masonry…

Dr. Harris: [0:33] And a figure who’s pointing at it and looks back at the female figure, almost alarmed at what they’re reading.

Dr. Zucker: [0:41] There’s a little ambiguity. Is it possible they’re having difficulty reading? Do they not know this language, or, you’re right, are they disturbed by the message?

Dr. Harris: [0:48] “I too am in Arcadia,” meaning even death is in Arcadia. The landscape has a setting sun. There’s a strong shadow on the tomb cast by the kneeling figure. There’s a real sense of a poetic passage of time.

Dr. Zucker: [1:05] That issue of time is important. If you look at the tomb, it’s not new. Although it’s stone, it’s been harmed over time. We get a sense that it is even more ancient than these ancient people, and this is a bridge back in time. Poussin was so interested in the archaeology of the past…

Dr. Harris: [1:21] That’s right.

Dr. Zucker: [1:21] …and resurrecting it through color, through form, through style, and through subject.

Dr. Harris: [1:26] One gets a sense that in that looking back by Poussin to ancient Greek and Roman culture, he must have had a sense of…

Dr. Zucker: [1:34] Longing for the past.

Dr. Harris: [1:35] Also a sense of the transience of human life and of what human beings make.

Dr. Zucker: [1:41] In a sense, the power of art to transcend time in this way, both in terms of what’s represented, this tomb as a kind of art, but then also, of course, this painting itself.

[1:51] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, "Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego," in Smarthistory, December 11, 2015, accessed July 18, 2024,