While the court of France was at variance with the Holy See, considerable acrimony existed among his Holiness’s troops against all Frenchmen; consequently, wherever they met them in Rome, they instantly attacked them with sticks and stones, and sometimes with even more formidable weapons. It happened one day that Poussin and three or four of his countrymen, returning from a drawing excursion, met at the Quattro Fontane near Monte Cavallo, a company of soldiers, who seeing them dressed in the French costume, instantly attacked them. They all fled but Poussin, who was surrounded, and received a cut from a sabre between the first and second finger. Passeri, who relates the anecdote, says that the sword turned, otherwise “a great misfortune must have happened both to him and to painting.” Not daunted, however, he fought under the shelter of his portfolio, throwing stones as he retreated, till being recognized by some Romans who took his part, he effected his escape to his lodgings. From that day he put on the Roman dress, adopted the Roman way of living, and became so much a Roman, that he considered the city as his true home.
POUSSIN’S HABITS OF STUDY.
Poussin not only studied every vestige of antiquity at Rome and in its environs, with the greatest assiduity while young, but he followed this practice through life. It was his delight to spend every hour he could spare at the different villas in the neighborhood of Rome, where, besides the most beautiful remains of antiquity, he enjoyed the unrivalled landscape which surrounds that city, so much dignified by the noble works of ancient days, that every hill is classical, the very trees have a poetic air, and everything combines to excite in the soul a kind of dreaming rapture from which it would not be awakened, and which those who have not felt it can scarcely understand.
He restored the antique temples, and made plans and accurate drawings of the fragments of ancient Rome; and there are few of his pictures, where the subject admits of it, in which we may not trace the buildings, both of the ancient and the modern city. In the beautiful landscape of the death of Eurydice, the bridge and castle of St. Angelo, and the tower, commonly called that of Nero, form the middle ground of the picture. The castle of St. Angelo appears again in one of his pictures of the Exposing of Moses; and the pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Pantheon, the ruins of the Forum, and the walls of Rome, may be recognised in the Finding of Moses, and several others of his remarkable pictures.
“I have often admired,” said Vigneul de Marville, who knew him at a late period of his life, “the love he had for his art. Old as he was, I frequently saw him among the ruins of ancient Rome, out in the Campagna, or along the banks of the Tyber, sketching a scene which had pleased him; and I often met him with his handkerchief full of stones, moss, or flowers, which he carried home, that he might copy them exactly from nature. One day I asked him, how he had attained to such a degree of perfection as to have gained so high a rank among the great painters of Italy? He answered, ‘I have neglected nothing!’”