Nicolas Poussin was born in the Normandy town of Villers-en-Vexin in 1594, where he spent his childhood on his father's farm near the Norman village Les Andelys. His father served in a senior position under Karl IX and Henry of Navarra. Nicolas Poussin's talent as an artist became apparent early on, but due to a lack of training under important painters, young Poussin was forced to work auto-didactically. In 1611-12 Poussin became the assistant of the provincial painter Quentin Varin, with whom he went to Paris in 1612-13. The following 10 years became Nicolas Poussin's apprenticeship and travel years. He moved from job to job throughout the province and among others also entered the workshop of the Dutch artists Ferdinand Elle and the Manierist artist Georges Lallemand for a few months. Nicolas Poussin's actual destination was Rome. But Poussin did not leave France for any length of time before 1624, even though he had set off to Italy several times in between but had always been forced to return to Paris.
Before he went to Rome, however, Poussin met the Italian poet Giovanni Battista Marino, who became his first patron, in 1622 Paris. Through Marino's recommendation, Nicolas Poussin made contact with the circle surrounding the art-loving, francophile cardinal Francesco Barberini in 1626, and met his second major patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo. From then on, Poussin progressed to become one of the most respected artists not just in Rome, soon being able to live from his private orders.
In 1630 Poussin married Anne-Marie Dughet, the niece of the painter Gaspard Dughet. Poussin became a member of the "Accademia di San Luca", which was not usually open to foreign artists. Nicolas Poussin's fame soon reached the French court, Cardinal Richelieu purchased four bacchanal paintings. Following an urgent request from the court, Poussin traveled to Paris in 1640, where he was commissioned with the decoration of the Grand Gallery in the Louvre.
Poussin worked on numerous commissions in France until the fall of 1542, when he returned to Rome, retreating from the increasing workload and the plotting emerging in Paris. Even though most of Poussin's patrons lost their positions under the new Pope Innocence X, it hardly affected Poussin's workload. Among his patrons and clients were Jean Pointel and from 1655 also Flavio Chigi, who later became Pope Alexander VII. Nicolas Poussin's health deteriorated. He suffered from Parkinson's disease, which prevented him almost completely from working during the last years of his life.
In 1665 he died and was buried in San Lorenzo in Lucina.
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