Updated: Apr 8, 2020
(the painting above "The Plague at Ashdod" is by Nicolas Poussin, 17th century classical painter) and it is part of the louvre’s collection, I’ve been wanting to share photos of this masterpiece for a while but always got caught up in other obligations.
This painting struck a chord with me for several reasons first of all its dynamic and complex composition with a spread of a sickness (which is more relevant than ever today with the pandemic covid19), the depiction of my homeland Israel, a city that still exists Ashdod (were I use to work), its narrative is the Pestilence used in retaliation against the Philistines , who captured the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 5:1-6) from the Jews.
The Ark of the Covenant (on the left side of the painting) was a large sacred chest containing the tablets of the Mosaic Law (the 10 Commandments) and signifying to the people of Israel that God was with them. It was kept in the most sacred portion of the Temple in Jerusalem. Yahweh stated that he would dwell in a cloud between the wings of the cherubim above the Mercy Seat (Leviticus 16:2) and His voice would be heard from between their wings (Numbers 7:89; Exodus 25:22), and so they are punished by god.
Now you can say that Nicolas Poussin is obviously one of the greatest painters in art history, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he made such an incredible painting, but the type of drama and dread he is able to express while exhibiting beauty in such a terrifying scene is astonishing to me, not only that but the fact that he not only recreates the tragedy, he celebrates it.
Poussin shows the young and the old the strong and the weak, all are influenced by this sickness, and those that are not… are grieving for their dead or blocking their nose from the stench.
we are compelled to be compassionate to the young children and baby orphans (or soon to be orphans) that are mingled among the sick and the dead.
I point this fact out not to spill salt on fresh wounds but in order to point out that if Poussin
Would have spared us any of these hardships, or even “prettify” any of these events it would louse its power, the beauty of this painting comes from its uncompromising realistic depiction.
In this difficult time I hope you can reconcile with the photos of this beautiful painting, the fact that plagues have been with humanity from the very beginning, hopefully we can make something good out of this complicated moment in our life, and if you feel you would like to make a difference you can donate to The world health organization (like I did) at https://covid19responsefund.org/
By the way the plague had also wreaked havoc in Milan in the midst of the 1630’s while Poussin was at Rome so it is not just a scene he invented it is also something he experienced.
Another interesting fact is that the painter Hieronymus Bosch had also lived through a plague in his life time that had killed many in Europe, and some scholars even suggest that his incredible imagination inspired from the extreme fever and hallucinations he experienced from the disease.
Hopefully with modern science, technology, and basic common sense this pandemic will be controlled soon and overcome.
I hope we will go back to normality soon, be clean be healthy and next time you’re in Paris definitely go and have a look at the painting “The plague at Ashdod” or paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.