Getty’s exhibition [Poussin and the Dance] offers a window into the two decades French painter Nicolas Poussin worked in Rome, a city whose majesty inspired him to make some of his most beautiful and joyous works of art.\n\n\n : https://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/poussin_dance/ What’s not in the exhibition: despite his triumphs, Poussin struggled financially—before and during those heady years—and turned to gig work to get by.\n\nPoussin’s struggles with money, and authority, started early. The “Father of French Classicism,” as Poussin is known, was born in small-town Normandy in 1594, the son of a disgraced nobleman (whose disgrace remains a mystery). To begin his art career at all, Poussin had to hatch a plan to defy his parents and run away from home. In 1612, when he turned 18, his destination became the same as that of all big talents growing up in stifling hamlets: the big city, i.e. the center of the art world, where new ideas, connections, and inspiration would make life as an artist possible.\n\nFor artists in Poussin’s time, the center of the art world was Baroque Rome, a city Poussin perhaps heard of from Quentin Varin, the itinerant artist who visited his small town and was his first teacher. The Counter-Reformation was in full swing, and civic-minded popes celebrating the wealth of the Catholic church had beautified the city with theatrical urban spaces and dramatic architecture. These are the years when Rome was adorned with the Villa Borghese’s lavish gardens, the Contarelli Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, vast processional avenues, and picturesque piazzas.\n\nAs wealthy Romans built new churches and palazzi all over the city, they also commissioned scores of artists to create custom, complementary works of art to beautify their buildings’ interiors. This made the Eternal City the perfect place for an ingenue. As long as that ingenue could sneak into town, that is.\n\nPoussin’s unceasing desire to get to Rome is one of the few things we know about this period in his life. But when he left home at age 18, Paris was as far as his wallet would take him. There in the City of Light—perhaps because he lacked connections and experience, or because he turned down commissions, preferring to paint what he liked—he did not have a patron, as many artists did. Instead he took on gig work, entering public art competitions, taking on the odd internship, and making “potboilers”—works of art on popular subjects (in Poussin’s day, biblical and mythological scenes) with mass appeal and reasonable prices, like what’s still being sold on Paris streets today.\n\nPoussin’s period as a “struggling artist” painting to earn just enough to live and travel certainly sounds romantic, if not a terribly effective way to realize his dream. It took Poussin 10 years to make it to Rome, and surviving documents from the period suggest that money was at least part of the trouble. He first tried to leave Paris around 1617, but some sort of accident forced him to return shortly after he left. In 1622 he made it as far as Lyon, but there he was threatened with arrest for outstanding debts (and possibly made things right by selling some paintings).\n\nThe romance had also left the equation, perhaps when illness and poverty forced him to return to Normandy for a year to recuperate, and certainly when he contracted syphilis, possibly when he was only 21. This resulted in periods of work-stopping symptoms—most notably a tremor in his hands that would plague him for decades.\n\nWhat finally got Poussin to Rome in 1624 was meeting Giambatista Marino, his first real patron. Marino was Marie de Medici’s court poet, employed at what would now be roughly $100,000 per year. Poussin’s potboilers had given him name recognition, if not much money, and Marino was a fan. He took the younger artist under his wing and funded Poussin’s first, and long-dreamed-of, trip to Rome.\n\n“Poussin must have been dazzled, upon his arrival, by the treasures of the Eternal City: great chunks of ancient sculpture that stood in the gardens and courtyards of its villas, frescoes by Raphael, murals by Polidoro, and oil paintings by Titian,” notes Emily Beeny, [coauthor of the book *Poussin and the Dance*] and curator of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.\n\n\n : https://shop.getty.edu/products/poussin-and-the-dance-978-1606066836 Everywhere were the classic sculptures, friezes, and jewels of antiquity—including the relief *Borghese Dancers* and the colossal statue *Farnese Flora*—that inspired Poussin’s dance scenes. But then things got rough again. His patron, Marino, died roughly a year after Poussin arrived in Rome. Poussin found a second patron, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, but that patron was suddenly made papal legate to Spain and quit the city shortly after they became acquainted. Poussin’s first Roman commission—the *Martyrdom of St Erasmus*—did not meet with critical acclaim. And then it got worse. The Italian Plague of 1629–1631, part of the second bubonic plague pandemic that had begun in the 14th century, descended on Italy, and the symptoms of Poussin’s syphilis flared up again. Due to that series of unfortunate events, not long after his arrival in Rome Poussin was back to doing gig work. And one of those gigs landed him in court. Gentleman jewel thief Fabrizio Valguarnera was accused of laundering diamonds through the Roman art market and was put on trial. Poussin was called to discuss the four paintings, including *The Realm of Flora*, that Valguarnera had purchased from him. Poussin testified that Valguarnera paid cash—not stolen diamonds—for the art.\n\nDespite all these setbacks, Poussin was determined to make it in the art world. He studied the classics and copied the works of antiquity with which his art, specifically the paintings in *Poussin and the Dance*, are in constant conversation. In Rome, through his patron and friend Cassiano dal Pozzo, Poussin had access to collections like the Paper Museum—a collection of more than 10,000 drawings, watercolors, and prints that served as an encyclopedia of ancient sculpture, architecture, and visual culture (as well as botany, zoology, and geology). Poussin not only consulted the collections, he also contributed sketches to them.\n\nPoussin certainly had an independent bent, but he must have been skilled in, or knew enough to foster, relationships with influential people. It was the artistic and scholarly patrons who gave Poussin the figurative and literary language found in *Poussin and the Dance*. His perseverance in the face of so many odds should be inspirational for struggling artists in any era, and make the celebratory paintings in the exhibition feel even more exultant.