Published: September 20, 2011
The Kimbell Art Museum has announced one of the most important acquisitions in its history: French painter Nicolas Poussin’s “Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter),” which the museum put on view September 14.
The painting is from Poussin’s famous first set of the Seven Sacraments, which has been universally acclaimed as a landmark in the history of art. The series was commissioned by the prominent Roman collector Cassiano dal Pozzo between 1636 and 1642. In 1785, the 4th Duke of Rutland purchased the paintings and brought them to England, after which Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy of Arts, declared: “I think upon the whole that this must be considered as the greatest work of Poussin, who was certainly one of the greatest Painters that ever lived.”
“This is among the most significant Old Master paintings to have become available in decades,” said Eric M. Lee, the museum’s director. “I’m thrilled about the acquisition. Poussin’s harmonious painting, with its frieze of colorfully dressed figures set against a landscape, will beautifully complement the serene Louis Kahn-designed galleries of the Kimbell, and vice-versa †a perfect union of painting and architecture. The classical sense of restraint in this work makes for an interesting contrast to the Poussin already in our collection, the earlier, more sensuous, Venetian-inspired ‘Venus and Adonis.'”
Cassiano dal Pozzo, who commissioned the Sacrament series, was secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, and is often referred to as the father of modern archaeology. Cassiano immersed himself in the study of natural sciences and the philosophy, customs and monuments of antiquity, to which end he amassed a “Paper Museum,” an encyclopedic collection of drawings and prints that recorded the material evidence of the life and works of the ancients. He met Poussin soon after the artist’s arrival in Rome from France, in 1624, and became one of his most important patrons. Eventually he owned (along with his brother) some 50 Poussin paintings.
To illustrate the sacrament of ordination †the taking of Holy Orders to become a priest, deacon or bishop †Poussin depicted the gospel account of Christ giving the keys of heaven and earth to the kneeling apostle Peter, showing the authority vested in him as head of the Roman church: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18‱9).
The Dal Pozzo Sacraments were on display at Belvoir Castle for more than 200 years and from 2003 until last year on loan to the National Gallery, London. Of the original seven works, the Duke of Rutland retains “Confirmation,” “Eucharist,” “Extreme Unction” and “Marriage.” “Penance” was destroyed in a fire, and “Baptism” was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1946. “The Sacrament of Ordination” was offered for sale by the trustees of the Belvoir estate with proceeds supporting renovation and long-term preservation of Belvoir Castle and Estate.
The Kimbell Art Foundation was represented in the negotiation of the painting’s purchase by Robert Holden Ltd and Sotheby’s. The Kimbell secured an export license in August.
The museum is at 3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard. For general information, 817-332-8451 or www.kimbellart.org .
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