Nicolas Poussin

The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (1647)

About this artwork

This picture shows the Last Supper Christ shared with his twelve disciples, during which he announced that ‘one of you will betray me’. At the meal, Christ blessed the bread and wine, and told his disciples that these represented his body and blood (the Eucharist). He asked them to eat these as a way of remembering him, a ritual still performed today by Christians taking Holy Communion. Here, Poussin shows the origins of the Eucharist: each disciple has a piece of bread, and the cup of wine in Christ’s left hand is about to be passed around the table. The format is unlike traditional representations of the Last Supper, in which all the figures sit at a long table. Poussin’s aim was to show the origins of the sacrament, and the inclusion of contemporary Roman reclining couches (triclinia) sets the scene.

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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.