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

The Miracle of St Francis Xavier

Oil on canvas, 444 x 234 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This painting was commissioned in 1638 by Sublet de Noyers, in Paris and installed in spring 1642 on the high altar of a newly built church for Jesuit noviciates. It shows a scene from the life of St Francis Xavier, one of the joint founders of the Jesuit Order, who during his mission in Japan brought a dead girl back to life. Summoned by the prayers of the saint, Christ appears in the company of angels and restores the deceased to the living. The painting offered Poussin the opportunity to measure himself against his arch rival Vouet, who - along with Poussin's friend Jacques Stella - had been commissioned to produce a work for one of the side altars. Poussin was not entirely happy, however, with the circumstances under which his altarpiece arose: it was the largest canvas he ever executed in terms of dimensions, and although he considered its composition a success he was obliged to complete it in a great rush.

Poussin based the figure of Christ on that in Raphael's Transfiguration.