The Conquest of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus

Nicolas Poussin1638

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

During the Jewish revolt against Rome (66 – 70 AD), which went down inhistory as the Jewish War, Flavius Josephus initially served as military commander of Galilee before being captured in 67 AD and changing sides. As advisor to the Roman troops during the siege of Jerusalem (70 AD), he tried in vain to prevent the plundering and destruction of the Temple. Even Titus, the Roman commander and son of the emperor, could not stop his troops from doing so. Flavius Josephus later (75 – 79 AD) wrote a seven-volume history of the Jewish War (De bello Judaico) on which this depiction is based. Poussin came to Rome in 1624, and only a short stay in Paris (1640–1642) was to interrupt his Roman career. As a friend of his successful fellow-painter Claude Lorrain and a protégé of Pope Urban VIII and the cultured members of the papal court, Poussin became one of Rome’s most prominent painters. His frequently documented interest in the art of antiquity gave his works a classical touch, which manifests itself in the present painting in its relief-like composition and plain coloration. The chaotic action appears well-organised, with the bodies precisely laid out on the canvas, and the mighty columns of the temple and the rigid figures in the foreground providing a counterweight to the battlefield tumult. The picture was created on a commission from Cardinal Francesco Barberini and presented by an imperial envoy to Emperor Ferdinand III as a gift from the Pope in 1639. It remains uncertain what the Pope hoped to achieve in choosing the subject: was it an admonishing reminder of the conquest and plundering of Mantua by imperial troops in 1627? Or was it late praise? Ferdinand had won a decisive victory over the Protestants at the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: The Conquest of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus
  • Creator: Nicolas Poussin
  • Creator Lifespan: 1594/1665
  • Creator Nationality: french
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Rome
  • Creator Birth Place: Villers near Les Andelys
  • Date Created: 1638
  • Style: French Baroque
  • Provenance: in the Vienna Gallery since 1721
  • Physical Dimensions: w1990 x h1480 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 1556
  • Artist Biography: "Something celestial shone in his eyes; his pointed nose and wide brow ennobled his modest face." So wrote a biographer about Nicolas Poussin, a philosopher who expressed himself in paint. Pointing to his forehead, Gian Lorenzo Bernini called Poussin "a painter who works up here." Born to Norman peasants, Poussin went to Paris in 1612, working with Mannerist artists and collaborating with Philippe de Champaigne. In Rome by 1624, he worked in Domenichino's studio, absorbing his composition and cool colors. Poussin's art developed slowly. His first major commission, an altarpiece for Saint Peter's Basilica, was unsuccessful; in fact, he never painted again for a public building in Rome but concentrated on small pictures for collectors. In 1640 Louis XIII persuaded him to supervise a large decorative project in Paris, but Poussin soon returned to Rome, suited neither for large projects nor for court intrigue and competition. He usually painted what he chose, on speculation rather than commission, a practice that led to reputation, not riches. Despite weak, shaky hands - which plagued him as early as 1643 and were probably a symptom of syphilis - Poussin painted by himself, lacking the resources required to run a large workshop with assistants and apprentices. His pictures, rather than pupils, shaped European art for generations. Poussin was the chief formulator of the French classical tradition in painting. By the mid-1630s, he began exploring a serene, classical style inspired by Raphael and antiquity, emphasizing form and moral content. His late works are essays in solid geometry, with movement minimized and every element given a symbolic meaning and pictorial function. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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