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Arcadia and Poussin’s secret
From the Argonauts’ sea to ad Genesareth


Which secret, which “confidence” is Nicolas Poussin hinting us at in these two paintings that happened to be the key to Priest Saunière’s enigma thanks to my ancestor Henri Gasc , thanks to the hand of fate ?
Arcadia is dear to Nicolas Poussin, Arcadia lies in the very heart of his famous painting “The Shepherds of Arcadia” by means of a mysterious message.
Arcadia is also Jason and The Argonauts’country as well as the country of the Golden Fleece...


  The Shepherds of Arcadia

“The Shepherds of Arcadia”
First version 1628-1630

Poussin’s seal “Tenet Confidentiam” as the symbol of Nicolas Poussin’s enigma also reflects the image of Arcadia when it hints at a ship, an ark: the Argo ship refers to Cesare Ripa’s world, an Italian author of the 16th century , and his allegorical figures which Poussin was inspired by.

        Poussin’s seal
Poussin’s seal
Cesare Ripa’s illustration 16th century

Cesare Ripa


By using an allegorical language, Poussin encourages us to “read” these two paintings and find out the message so as to lead us to his secret eventually uncovered by Henri Gasc.
In the eyes of this most erudite painter who created such elaborated works, “a painting is to be read as a story, a composition made of visible and invisible signs”. After hours and years of investigation I have come to discover Poussin’s world as this magic painter “introduced” me in a way to his paintings and made it possible for me to penetrate their history. Combining a detail with another like a puzzle, I was gradually “guided” by the painter towards his secret.


Argos Constellation

“Argos” constellation
Argo Ship

Illustration of the “Argo” ship

In these two paintings Nicolas Poussin has delivered a message through a celestial allegorical travel, a secret message discovered by Priest Gasc that leads to Priest Saunière’s enigma and his assumed treasure. A secret can be transmitted but is not disclosed. Poussin wanted to transmit it in a disguised way, so did Henri Gasc.
You have to “read the story and the painting in order to know whether each detail is appropriate to the subject” said Nicolas Poussin.
I have read these paintings in order to puzzle out the mystery of the Argo ship linked to the astronomic fable of the Golden Fleece, to Peter’s fishing boat, the carriage as a symbol for the celestial navigation. Nicolas Poussin has used “his world” with “his codes” in our paintings by subtly combining and superimposing themes.


Jason is related to Jonah as there is a lot of similarities between Jonah and the Argonauts’ stories. Nicolas Poussin would often use Greek or Greco Roman allegories to illustrate Christian themes. These are allegorical pictures which Poussin would often take from the Fables and the Bible parables. For paintings illustrating Fables or Biblical themes, Poussin used to build a “small theatre” with wax figurines which he would mould according to the attitudes he wanted to give his characters. He would put them in the theatre box whose walls were bored with holes allowing him to set up the light of the scene. At the back of the stage he would make a drawn scenery , a landscape or an architecture slide in and out.
This way to proceed can also be found in Jason ’s narration or the astronomical fable of the Golden Fleece. Poussin has really set up the “scenery” of his story. The Jason Fable is present in Hercules’ solar poem and forms an episode of Hercules’ ninth labor or the episode corresponding to the celestial ram. The Arcadian theme is well known in the Roman land which is Poussin’s adoptive homeland. Evander, Aeneid’s hero, founded a Greek colony on the Rome site in memory of his Arcadian homeland: Poussin has really become immersed in this culture.
The whole story of Hercules, a solar hero, can be explained by the sky, exactly as Jason, a solar hero initiated by a sorceress, conquered kingdom and immortality, facing Draco the celestial whale, the sea monster, the “monster keeper” of the Golden Fleece. Solar, celestial Jason is the serpent eater or snake charmer with one of his stars showing a camel head. Each detail of the painting is important and accurate, since Poussin never did anything at random....Jason is the sun in astronomy. The sun reaches the equinoxial point in Spring featured by the Ram constellation. The ram is represented by the God Pan, the horned God with goat feet and a very uncouth face.
The celestial ram or golden fleece ram arises when the sun rises at the Spring equinox day. When the sun passes by the golden fleece ram sign, the Argo ship rises.


Astronomy is a field which the painter cherishes and masters. From the fable to the biblical parable, from Jason and the celestial ram to Jesus or the Lamb of God, the savior God, from the Argo ship to the celestial vessel... which “sign” is the painter leading us to ? Is Jesus the Prophet guiding his companions back to the celestial homeland like Jonah did as a king like Jason ? What if the Christ’s mysteries were to Nicolas Poussin the mysteries of the Sun god in his equinoxial triumph ? Christ triumphs at the Spring equinox. Matthew’s gospel is the link, the biblical thread connected to these two paintings.
Didn’t the Christians replace the name of Jesus by Jason, who has become the hellenized name of Jesus ?
Matthew gives Jesus a royal genealogy. He refers to the Prophet Jesus as a king, Abraham and David’s son. The Prophet Jesus predicted Salomon’s temple destruction by Titus and the end of the world when he was at the Mount of Olives three days before his death.  “The disciples came to Him privately, saying: "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age Matthew 24 1-3. Passing from Mythology to the Bible, superimposing both themes like Poussin would love to do so, the painter is referring in Matthew’s gospel from Jonah’s sign echoing with Jesus’ death and resurrection, to Peter’s fishing boat , the celestial fishing boat like Noah’s ark wandering in the storm, leading to the Last Judgment (Matthew XII 39-42). This miraculous draught of fish collecting a great multitude of fish is another way to tell the story of the Last Judgment, the victory of God’s reign snatching out the humans from the evil forces, the deep waters. Jesus’ advent can be considered as his coming linked to the Last Judgment, the coming back of Christ the Savior, like Jesus would announce it to his disciples at the Mount of Olives. In Matthew’s gospel the Last Judgment is linked with the Queen of the South and Salomon. As it can be read in Matthew’s gospel : “ and now one greater than Salomon is here”. For Nicolas Poussin isn’t a painting to be read like a narration, a composition with visible and invisible signs ?


Painting 1

For Pierre Rosenberg two drawings found in the critical catalogue reveal that Nicolas Poussin was planning to achieve a pair of matching paintings. “the painter was thinking about two matching paintings”, but, as he would add : “we know nothing about this project .” The selected theme was to be Christ’s coming after his death and resurrection and Christ’s triumph. This is rather disturbing when we think about the theme of these two paintings.

Painting 2