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The Martyrdom of St. ErasmusEnlarge image

The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus, 1628

Nicolas Poussin
French, 1594 - 1665
oil on canvas
100 x 74 cm
Purchased 1972
National Gallery of Canada (no. 16992)

According to the third-century legend, Erasmus, Bishop of Formia, was disembowelled by his executioners, who then wound his entrails on a windlass. Poussin chose the crucial moment of his martyrdom, as Erasmus rejects the pagan image offered by a white-robed Roman priest. Angels descend with the palm branch and laurel crown, symbols of his spiritual triumph. The composition sustains the drama with its forceful diagonals, rich colours, and strong light effects. This work is a finished oil sketch, or "modello", for a much larger altarpiece that was commissioned for St. Peter's during the papacy of Urban VIII. Frame: running moulding with carved ornament. Italy (Rome), mid 19th century

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