The Funeral of Phocion

The Funeral of Phocion: Nicolas Poussin

The Funeral of Phocion is a 1648 painting by French Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin who specialized in the classical style and worked for most of his life in Rome. This work is located in the United Kingdom.

Analysis of The Funeral of Phocion

The Funeral of Phocion (1648), variously titled, is a painting by Nicolas Poussin with a historical subject matter.

It is in fact a landscape composition, showing a broad picture of a section of an ancient city, evidently Athens. Two men in the foreground, dressed in robes, are carrying a corpse covered with a heavy white sheet on a wooden stretcher.

The entire scene is aglow with a reddish hue, which appears to originate at the lowest level, with the dirt road, soil, and the men’s garments, and percolates upwards to the sky. The shining line of clouds to the left of the center helps to accentuate this impression.

The multitude of urban architectures which we see strewn across an irregular area of land crisscrossed by roads and water courses is manifestly fictional and rather crammed (there appear to be several cult buildings and halls in close proximity to one another and differently oriented). The event which is purportedly represented, which gives the painting its name and inspiration, is almost entirely consumed by the two figures with a stretcher which we see in the foreground.

This is a narrative arrangement characteristic of Nicolas Poussin’s landscapes. The painting — which is followed by Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion — alludes to the execution by hemlock, in c. 318, of the Athenian nobleman Phocion. Despite being well-liked throughout his life (and nicknamed “The Good”), and despite serving in the Athenian Assembly longer than any known person, Phocion was put to death for political reasons by a short-lived mob rule in the city of Athens. The populist Athenian government even denied his family the right to bury him in the local region of Attica.

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