I recently learned that a former Louvre restorer, Regina Pinto Moreira, got more than she bargained for when she decided to clean the grime off Poussin's Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus, dating from about 1635. Beneath the layers of dirt she disclosed a phallus painted on Priapus. The offending article had been painted out by nervous, and censorious Spaniards in the 18th century. Our curator told a Sao Paulo newspaper- the town where the museum that owns the picture is located- that “post-production modesty” came into play when the Poussin was in the collection of the Spanish royal family. And the cost of re- exposing this offending member? The removal of the over-painting and dirt cost 150,000 Euros or $213, 000.
Reading this, I’m reminded of how much Poussin’s body is played down in the literature on the artist- the art historical equivalent of painting over the true, earthy, corporeal Poussin, I guess.Take the Nymph and Satyr of 1627,in the National Gallery, London. Many might see it as a purely mythological scene devoid of any lasciviousness or lust, but it’s quite obvious what the voyeuristic satyr is doing behind the tree. Interestingly HumphreyWine says in the NG catalogue of 17th French Painting that the eroticism in the picture didn’t stop an attribution to Poussin, though the painting’s exposure to the public was delayed on matters of decency.Apparently, some Georgian bigwig made a fuss about obscenity and morals, hence the picture’s delay in being showed to the public. It can’t have bothered the original owner of the painting though, HolwellCarr, who was actually a clergyman!
All this reminds me that the great Poussin expert Anthony Blunt could never really reconcile Poussin’s painting brain with the vulgar functions of his body. All Poussin scholars know the story of Blunt's reluctance to quote a, literally, scatological piece of prose in Poussin’s letters attacking a patron, during his lectures at the Courtauld. Still, Poussin was all flesh and bone, not an isolated brain floating free of his body. And as for sex in Poussin. Well, Poussin caught syphilis, the dreaded French disease with the result that his motor functions were severely impaired and his drawing hand became shaky.
I’m tempted to say that despite attempts to de-sexualize Poussin, this subject sticks out a mile.