The Crossing of the Red Sea
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Nicolas Poussin
French, Rome, about 1634
Red chalk
6 1/8 x 8 7/8 in.

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My temperament compels me to look for and take pleasure in well-ordered things. I avoid confusion, which is contrary and opposed to my nature, just as light is opposed to the darkness.

Thus Nicolas Poussin explained his tendency to balance and choreograph even the violence and haste inherent in his narrative subjects. In drawings such as this one, he worked out the structure of a composition using clear strokes that captured the figures' essential gestures or shapes. He then toned down the movement, gesture, and tumult in the final painting. This is a typical development for most painters, but one even more conspicuous in Poussin's work. He made this study and at least five others in preparation for a painting commissioned by a member of an illustrious Italian family prominent in government and civic affairs and active patrons of the arts.