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This painting by Nicolas Poussin was the most important old master painting to enter the Fitzwilliam’s collection for over a century, when it was acquired in 2012.
Extreme Unction, or ‘Final Anointing’ is one of a set of seven scenes representing the sacraments of the Catholic Church, painted in Rome c. 1638-40 for Poussin’s friend and patron, the renowned connoisseur and antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo.
The scene depicts a dying man being anointed with oil in accordance with the rites of the ancient Roman church.
Poussin creates a rhythm across the painting through interlinked gestures of hands, arms and feet, and varied expressions inspired in part by his knowledge of classical bas-reliefs.
Dominating the composition is the priest, accompanied by two acolytes, one of whom holds a copy of the liturgy on which the word ‘Unc-tio’ can be discerned. Poussin beautifully captures emotions of the onlookers - the dying man’s mother who gently cradles his head, his wife who covers her face in an expression of inconsolable grief, and his daughter, whose hands are joined in silent prayer. By doing so Poussin shows us that death affects not only the dying, but those they leave behind.
The Sacrament series was acquired in 1785 by the Duke of Rutland through an intermediary in Rome, and with the active encouragement of Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of @royalacademyarts
Extreme Unction, 1638-40 Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665 Oil on canvas , 95.5 x 121 cms link in bio
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Cassiano dal Pozzo, Rome; by inheritance to Cosimo Antonio del Pozzo, grandson of Cassiano's younger brother, Carlo Antonio, and then to Cosimo's daughter, Maria Laura Boccapaduli; bought in 1785 by James Byres, a Scottish dealer, for the 4th Duke of Rutland (Charles Manners), by descent to the 11th Duke at Belvoir Castle.