The Louvre contains the best works of art, delighting visitors with unsurpassed skill. The painting by Nicolas Poussin “Arcadian Shepherds” was closed from prying eyes for 20 years and only after being acquired by the museum (1685) became its adornment.
The oil painting draws attention with its idyllic landscape, bright colors, compact composition and philosophical depth. In the serene country of Arcadia, which was associated with Paradise, a group of people unexpectedly finds a tombstone. The action unfolds around an extraordinary find.
The first glance falls on the woman. Her stateliness, beauty, serenity symbolize a calm life and harmony. The characteristic clothing falls in beautiful folds, shimmering golden against the clear blue sky. Three men – personify three stages of human life: youth, maturity and old age.
It was the latter, a man in years, who was most interested in the inscription on the stone. The shepherd runs his finger along it, trying to understand the meaning of the written: “And I am in Arcadia.” The inscription is dual in meaning. “I” – death, which is inevitable, or is it about the deceased who found peace in a serene country?
The shepherds are bewildered, the youngest of them looks at the woman with incomprehension and surprise, doubting that he too will become dust. The woman’s hand lies on his shoulder, as if soothing, although her gaze is turned to the reader. Attention is drawn to the shadow cast by his hand. It looks like a stylized image of death, soaring invisibly on the ground.
So, we have before us a life cycle, the beginning of which was laid by a woman, and the end – inevitable death. A life full of hopes, inner strength, bright colors passes between the two events. It is no coincidence that a young shepherd in a red cape. Gradually, the fire of youth gives way to measured maturity and more restrained colors. Verily, the whirlpool of life.
Year of painting: 1639.
Dimensions of the painting: 121 x 185 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Genre: genre painting.
Gallery: Louvre, Paris, France.