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A Poussin Reunion

Imagine you are an artist and you carefully plan out a grand painting for an important patron. It is a very wide landscape – 80 inches, in fact – and you arrange several figures in the painting in a way that you feel will convey a sense of compositional harmony. Then, years later, you find that your painting has been cut in two!

Nicholas Poussin didn’t live to see his masterpiece, View of Grottaferrata, severed to become two separate works of art. But if he had, would he have been upset? If so, perhaps he would also have been relieved to see the two canvases reunited once again within the same frame, which is exactly what happened on February 8, 2008 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Poussin created View of Grottaferrata around the year 1625 for a member of the illustrious dal Pozzo family. The painting depicted a rambling landscape of the countryside surrounding Mount Cavo in southern Italy. On the left side of the painting, Poussin placed a silvery river god pouring water from an urn for a greyhound from a meandering stream. On the right side of the painting stands a voluminous tree under which the magnificent hunter Adonis embraces the beautiful goddess of love, Venus.

View of Grottaferrata was listed in the dal Pozzo family’s inventory through 1741 but by 1771, it was no longer shown, leading us to believe that it was sometime between 1741 and 1771 that the painting was divided in two. Apparently, the left side of the painting was renamed Landscape with a River God and it eventually fell into the hands of Patti Birch, an arts patron and gallery owner, when she bought it at a Sotheby’s auction in 1961. In 1991, Ms. Birch placed the painting on extended loan to The Met where it has resided until the present day.

The right side of View of Grottaferrata was renamed Venus and Adonis and was bought by the French painter François-Xavier Fabre who later donated it to his native city, Monpellier. This painting eventually came to reside in the Musée Fabre in France.

Once divided, the two parts of View of Grottaferrata had more or less fallen into obscurity. It wasn’t until a 1978 restoration of Venus and Adonis revealed a Latin inscription on the back of the canvas indicating the original title, that a real interest in the artwork was generated. Within two years, both Venus and Adonis and Landscape with a River God were brought together and examined at which point noted art historian Clovis Whitfield announced they were indeed two parts of the same painting!

The reunited View of Grottaferrata is now part of The Met exhibit entitled: Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions. The exhibit will be open to the public until May 11, 2008, after which time the two canvases will once again be separated!

To see an image of the reunited View of Grottaferrata, click here. To see an image of Venus and Adonis, click here.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at