ET IN ARCADIA EGO
Nothing of what concerns the SHEPHERDS of Poussin's ARCADIA can leave
us indifferent: as far away from the "loneliness" as of confusion,
héritièrs of the humanism of Alberti and precedes of David or of Puvis de
Chavannes, such a composition is solemn classicism. The concise
inscription which justifies it inspired, these last years, of rather hot
discussions summarized by Mr. Weisbach in the Gazette of the Art schools
Several essential facts emerge from this study: I - the sentence AND IN
ARCADIA EGO appears to us for the premiére time in a table of Guerchin
preserved at Galleria Nazionale of Rome, it there is engraved on a block
of masonry and comments on a cranium which two shepherds contemplate,
pressed on their sticks; one then finds it, about 1620-1630, in a first
version of the Poussin table collected by the Collection of the Duke of
Devonshire with Chatsworth; it is read finally in the centre of the famous
table of the Louvre; its origin is forgotten, "all gives to believe that
it was there, at the time, a very known saying, whose we are unaware of
the source", this source is not ancient, it should be sought, undoubtedly,
in the néo-Latin humanistic literature and could be contemporary painters.
II - the direction of the sentence AND IN ARCADIA EGO is dubious.
"interpretation that one (in) generally gave, during time" is as follows:
` Me also, I lived in Arcadie, and I knew the bonheur' there; ` it is at
Goethe, Schiller, Nietszche, to quote only some large names', but it is
already, with few things close that the biographer and friend of Poussin,
Felibien, who writes:
"By this inscription one wanted to mark that that which is in this
burial lived in Arcadie, and which death recontre among the greatest
happiness". But, Mr. Erwin Panofsky, in Philosophy and History essays
presented to Ernest Cassirer, Oxford, 1936, breaks with the tradition, "
the word AND can be reported only to IN ARCADIA and not not with EGO.
If one wants to comment on the table of Guerchin correctly, it is
necessary to compensate verb SUM and to give for subject to this I AM, the
cranium which symbolizes abstracted Death ", one must thus read:
"Me, Death, I exist even in Arcadie".
This reading would be also valid for the first Poussin version, which
exposes a cranium on its sarcophagus.
For the table of the Louvre, whose monument is of a whole nudity, the
direction should be modified a little: "it would be the tomb itself which
would speak": such a interpretation that Mr. Panofsky maintained, defended
and specified in answer to Mr. Weisbach in the issue of May-June 1938 of
the Gazette of the Art schools, would be confirmed by the paraphrase of
Et in Arcadia ego, cioé che il sepolcro si trova ancora
in Arcadia, e che la Morte ha luogo in mezzo le felicità".
Lastly, Mr. Weisbach proposes a third reading: the word AND would be
referred to IN ARCADIA as Mr. Panofsky thinks it, but it died it well
which would speak and would proclaim: "Even in Arcadie, I had to suffer
"Even in Arcadie the country of happiness, me, it died,
I was not saved by Death"
or more explicitly still:
"Me also, which enjoyed happiness in Arcadie, I had to
undergo death, and I gis in this tomb".
It is perhaps not useless to pour a new part with this file of an
inscription illustrates... The German engraver of the Renaissance Heinrich
Aldegrever (born in Paderborn about 1502, resident with Soest until 1555),
left a engraved portrait of the chief of the Anabaptists Jean Beuckelsz,
said Jean de Leyde, carried out after the death of the character who was
torture victim on January 27, 1536. However, this print, which poses many
curious problems (cf Emile GAVELLE. - Cornelis Engebrechtsz. Lille, 1929,
p.328), are cornea of a distich singularly close to the text whose Poussin
made fortune; the chimerical king who had died in the sufferings after a
transitory reign of which he had wanted to make a Golden age, addresses to
the spectator in "beautiful towards melancholic persons":
HAEC FACIES. HIC CVLTVS. ERAT. CVM. SEPTRA. TENEREM REX.
ANABAPTISTÔN SED. BREVE, TEMPVS. EGO.
Confronted with that of Guerchin and Poussin, this inscription
suggests the following remarks: I - Here a text engraved former to us
texts painted; it notes like them it brittleness of happiness, and, like
them, ends in EGO; it does not give their exact precedes but indisputably
attaches them to a tradition which goes up at least in the medium of 16th
century. II - In this text of 16th century, it is well a death which
speaks and not an abstraction. EGO rejected at the end of the speech
expresses the return of late on itself which confront in only one word of
a poignant concision what it was, and what it is. Such a constation
vigorously does not invite us it to push back the assumption of M,
Panofsky which hears in Guerchin and Poussin the inhuman voice of one
Death or the Tomb? Lastly, the clearness of the opposition of the
opposition established at Aldegrever between the past and the present, the
life and the incurable nostalgia of death, wouldn't it advise us, in some
measurement, to reject the reconciling but slightly hard solution of Mr.
Weisbach who weakens contrast by diluting the thought?
Isn't the traditional reading, which in our tables, attaches AND and
EGO, yet the best? The philologists, Mr. Weisbach notes it, there would
not see absolute opposition, "if this bringing together corresponded to a
correlation of facts", but in the current state of our knowledge it would
be necessary to stick to one "not liquet". This darkness had not
obstructed, until now, any the well-read men, large or small, who had
adapted the formula to their humanistic nostalgias.... One should not,
now, lira like them, while specifying a little:
"Me also, I lived in Arcadie happy - and I died."
Very finely, Mr. Panofsky gave like ancestors to our shepherds the
Three Sharp ones in contemplation in front of the Three Dead ones. The
engraving of Aldegrever would invite us to attach the inscription: AND IN
ARCADIA EGO with the epitaphs boldly antithetic of the Middle Ages and the
Bulletin of the Survey firm of the 17th century (Number 18; 1953)