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

Hagar and the Angel

c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The unusual format and the distinctive asymmetrical composition of the scene, with Hagar seeming to exit the painting, are characteristic of the last phase of Poussin's career. Likewise, the uncertain and tremulous brushwork, which gives figures and objects an evanescence, derives to the illness of the aging painter who was no longer able to hold the brush as firmly as he previously had. Far from the serene visions of the artist's youthful periods, this extraordinary landscape is described as menacing and inhospitable with looming black clouds and wild vegetation. Almost lost among these, and scarcely visible, the tiny figure of Hagar moves. Pregnant by Abraham, driven out of her village by the jealous Sarah, she seems here almost annihilated by the power of the nature which surrounds her. The only note of colour is the luminous angel above, who orders Hagar to turn around and retrace her steps: he alone is illuminated by the sun, the source of life and symbol of Hagar's own fertility.