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Video transcript

in the middle of the 17th century Rome was reborn there was a tremendous building campaign think about the extravagant spaces of the Church of ill j-su with this extraordinary illusionistic ceiling this was operatic it was theatrical it's hard to imagine how at the very same time that we have that baroque theatricality we have the classicism the repose the peacefulness the rationalism of Kazan we're in the Art Institute of Chicago we're looking at Nikolas Busse hands landscape with Saint John on Patmos this is a painting that really is about classical order and measure reality we know this is st. John because of the Eagle that stands beside him which is a traditional symbol of this evangelist we're looking at st. John seated in the foreground writing the book of Revelation writing about the end of time the second coming of Christ a really violent moment but within this incredibly serene and peaceful landscape and of course it's Poussin who has been credited with inventing the ideal landscape and that's exactly what we have here and it's going to be very important for art history for actually centuries to come artists will look back at the classical landscape and reinterpret it and in fact Poussin style was so influential that it became the standard for the French Academy and those who painted landscapes in this way with a sense of rigor and order and rationalism and a kind of ideal landscape became known as the Poussin beasts so what has he actually done here he's placed the main figure in the foreground but he's really quite small in relationship to the landscape he sits in a very classy sized pose in fact we think that Poussin took this pose directly from representations of River gods from ancient Rome and of course buson although he was French was in Rome for most of his life and that figures st. John is ruminated in the foreground surrounded by the ruins of classical antiquity we see ruins to his left and to his right and also in the background where we see the ruins of a classical temple and an ancient obelisk so he's in this landscape that has a sense of the passage of time as he's writing his book about the end of time the notion of passage I think is important to understanding the way that Poussin constructs a landscape st. John is placed in the very foreground right at the bottom of the painting but we can trace back to the middle ground where that temple is that you had mentioned instead we have a couple of visual paths we might try to go down and straight back but where we see water not once but twice and also a curtain of trees and so that way seems too difficult so instead our eye meanders over to the right and we see a road that seems to go back but it draws our eye slowly through this landscape so that we slow down and enjoy the space that he's created and at each point in the landscape he gives us something to look at the foreground with st. John and the ruins that pathway punctuated by trees into the middle ground with that temple and obelisk and then again into the background with the mountains and then further back with the aerial perspective and more mountain and clouds at each place our I has a place to rest in the landscape the landscape is not a specific place this is very much a collage of ideal forms and this makes sense for an artist whose aesthetic is being shaped by Rome which itself is layers of cultures look for instance in this painting where you've got the classical Greek or Roman temple and it's next to an Egyptian obelisk we're actually seeing references to two cultures both of which had ruled but had both fallen the idea here by showing those ruins is to show that there's a new Christian order that will be eternal foretold by st. John's book of Revelation the landscape is carefully rigorously composed everything has a sense of order and structure and geometry but that is so counter to what we expect when we think about st. John right the apocalypse this is a wildly violent vision it is the end of time so we're important reminder that this artist was actually studying stoic philosophy from ancient Greece this idea that the control of emotion was of the utmost importance and not just Poussin but the circle of patrons that he found in Rome we need to remember that there was more going on in Rome and the Pope's commissioning these theatrical works of art in the churches of the counter-reformation Kazan found a circle of patrons many of whom were interested in stoic philosophy and that he painted canvases like this one so Poussin has accomplished what seems to be nearly impossible he's created poetry out of the rational out of the ideal