Death in the Pastoral

I always like to consider what my first thought was when looking at a piece of art for the first time. Since there is nothing to be ashamed of here behind a computer screen I honestly thought when looking at Nicholas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego was: What great sandals! Seriously. Before you judge me take a look…

They are even shiny like the ones at Urban. You know you would totally rock those shnazy shoes! Okay, okay just trying to give you a little chuckle and break from the serious art critiques out there. Now onto the serious stuff. 

This famous pastoral painting depicts shepherds and a beautiful woman (with great sandals) pointing curiously at a tomb. But wait, what about that one with no shoes? Ahh art and its many complexities.

The tomb strangely has Et in Arcadia Ego sketched. We all know after class last Monday, and even after a few google searches that this phrase has been debated over countless cups of tea and coffee. Most will say it translates to “Even in Arcadia I exist” From what I understand the “I” represents death and Arcadia is the Greek idea of paradise. So this phrase has come to mean to many that “even here in the garden there is death” or “death is everywhere, even in paradise”.

Death has become a very interesting idea to me lately. One of mans (as a species) biggest downfall is that we have the ability to know we are going to die and, as you can imagine, for many this is very scary. But are we the only species that is disturbed by the idea of death?

That is the video of elephants stumbling onto their ancestors bones we talked about in class. They seem a bit disturbed. A little off subject, but worth seeing.

Ok back to Arcadia and death. I am so interested in this idea because we go to beautiful places or paradises in order to escape “this life” of rustle and bustle, to escape the thoughts of a horrible death. I feel like this painting is not like Hah! your going to die buddy!!! but rather Where ever you go there will always be death. Not in a scary way but a way of acceptance that everything that needs water and sunshine will reach the same fate of death, even in paradise.

The painting dates back to the 1600’s and further research proved that this is the second Et in Arcadia Ego Mr. Poussin has produced. To me, this means he really felt strongly about the subject at hand. Death in paradise. Everyone’s end in inescapable. As simple as the idea seems, this acceptance is very difficult to us humans.

I remember having a discussion about humans and our ability to know that we will die and how that has unfortunately resulted in a lot of our environmental issues today. Seems far fetched at first, but them we discussed how because we know we are going to die it is very important for us to leave behind some sort of treasure if you will. For many this is a large sum of money or business that can be passed on. Everyone should know a corporation never dies, it can continue indefinitely; cheating death in a way. I can see how early artist could have felt the same way with art.

This is described as Poussin’s most famous painting. He is still very much alive in a way. We will continue to debate his work and interpret the meaning until we feel satisfied with our hypothesis; and even still not fully satisfied because the debate continues.

I can only hope that we humans could learn from Poussin and create a work of art to cheat death and not a environmentally destructive corporation. The former legacy leaves more to the imagination and less to the ozone.



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