POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

Massacre of the Innocents I

Oil on canvas, 97 x 132 cm
Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

Poussin painted two versions of The Massacre of the Innocents between 1628 and 1632. In the first version, the gruesome scene, in which the mothers are desperately trying to protect their children from the murderous soldiers, unfolds across the pictorial plane like a frieze, with the figures arranged one beside the other. Although Poussin attempts to establish a connection between the three groups, insofar as he presents them as isolated moments within an unfolding sequence of movement, the pairs of figures lack a certain cohesion.

Having already suffered greatly in the 1700s, at the beginning of the 20th century the canvas was the target of a politically motivated attack. Its damaged areas could only be partially restored and some clumsy additions were made. It is consequently difficult to date the work, and its attribution was for a long time disputed. In 1994, however, a reference to the painting was discovered in the inventory of a Roman collection of the 17th century, where it is described as a work by Poussin.