Aurora, goddess of dawn, fell in love with the mortal Cephalus and tried to seduce him. He thought only of his wife Procris and rejected her. Poussin shows the cause of Cephalus' rejection of Aurora through the putto holding up Procris' portrait, a detail not included in the best-known version of the story in Book 7 of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses'.

Aurora rises from the sea each day; hence the sleeping god is probably Oceanus. Her coming heralds the day; it is brought by Apollo, the sun god, driving his chariot. The figure to the left of the winged horse Pegasus may be Terra, a goddess associated with the beginning of the day.

The pose of Cephalus is similar to that of Bacchus in Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne', which was in Rome when Poussin was painting there. Oceanus is reminiscent of a figure by Agostino Carracci in the Farnese Palace frescoes in Rome which Poussin would have known.


  • Title: Cephalus and Aurora
  • Creator: Nicolas Poussin
  • Date Created: about 1630
  • Physical Dimensions: 96.9 x 131.3 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: French
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG65
  • Artist Dates: 1594 - 1665
  • Artist Biography: Nicolas Poussin was born at Les Andelys in Normandy and first trained in Rouen. From 1612 he lived in Paris and in 1624 travelled via Venice to Rome, where he stayed for most of his life. His sensuous early canvases such as 'The Nurture of Bacchus', reflect 16th-century Venetian art, especially that of Titian. He studied antique remains and his art reflects both this and an appreciation of Raphael. Poussin read ancient writers such as Ovid and attempted to recreate ancient myth and history in his works. Poussin mainly painted easel paintings for private patrons. His larger works for Louis XIII, made from 1640 to 1642 on his return to Paris, were less successful. His scholarly patrons in Rome and Paris included Cassiano dal Pozzo and the notable art collector, Cardinal Richelieu. Poussin sketched in the Campagna, the countryside around Rome, with Claude, and from the late 1630s began to paint landscapes. He brought a powerful discipline to the composition of his paintings, which enhanced the solemnity of their subjects. In his later years he developed an intensely personal style in his religious and allegorical works.
  • Acquisition Credit: G.J. Cholmondely Bequest, 1831

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