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

The Triumph of Neptune

Oil on canvas, 114,5 x 146,6 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia

The lightness of tone is seen in the Triumph of Neptune in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a picture almost certainly painted for Richelieu and probably rather earlier than the three large Bacchanals for the château. The composition of the Triumph of Neptune is derived from Raphael's fresco in the Villa Farnese, but the result is unfortunately a little pedantic; when looking too closely at other art, Poussin forgot to relax and somehow stopped letting his own special intensity dominate. The result is light-hearted and decorative, and its subject has been interpreted in many different ways.

The mythological story depicted here is the following.

Amphitrite fled from Neptune's wooing, but he sent dolphins after her which succeeded in persuading her to return to become his bride. She rides beside his chariot on a dolphin's back, an arch of drapery billows over her head, a common feature of sea-goddesses from antiquity. They are surrounded by a retinue of Tritons (the name for mermen in general) and Nereids (sea-nymphs, the daughters of Nereus, the 'old man of the sea' in Greek mythology).

The painting was probably painted for Cardinal Richelieu. It has been subject to widely differing interpretations.