Nicolas Poussin

The Sacrament of Confirmation (1645)

About this artwork

As in the other Sacrament paintings, Poussin wanted to show this scene in an early Christian setting. The ceremony takes place in Roman Catacombs and the figures wear contemporary dress. Poussin even ensured that the women’s hairstyles corresponded to those on contemporary Roman portrait busts. The figures on the right line up before the priest, almost like a procession. Children and adults are confirmed at the same ceremony, and women usher their shy children forward to receive the sacrament. Confirmation was to re-affirm an individual’s faith, which was first announced at their baptism. The priest anoints them with chrism (blessed oil). This scene, despite its early Christian context, would have been easily recognisable to Poussin’s contemporaries as something they experienced in their own lives.

Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin

Poussin aimed to achieve a pure and noble style of painting inspired by the classical ideals of ancient art and the work of Raphael. Born in Normandy, he trained in Paris before arriving in Rome in 1624. Apart from a brief return to Paris (1640-42) he remained in Rome. He did not employ assistants and preferred painting for private patrons, Italian and French, who shared his scholarly and artistic interests. His work exerted a profound influence on French academic painting. The formal structure and rigour of his compositions, however, has continued to inspire modern artists.