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THE DEATH OF SAPPHIRA.
The subject of this picture will be found in the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. “A certain man,
, named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostle's feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained was it not thine own? and after it was sold was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto man, but unto God. And Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and gave up the ghost : and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in, and Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much ? and she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord ? Behold the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.”
The instant chosen by Poussin is the Death of Sapphira, and nothing recals that of Ananias.
This picture is not one of the most celebrated of this admirable painter. Felibien, and other writers, merely mention it, although it possesses some striking beauties. All the expressions have much dignity, energy, and truth; the draperies are well adjusted; and the architecture, in the back ground, is of a richness and purity of taste, which Poussin has not carried to a higher degree in his other productions. The general arrangement of this picture, the skilful disposition of the figures, and their attitudes, at once simple and diversified, cannot be too much studied. The attitude of the apostle, behind St. Peter, is, however liable to censure, his elevated hands presenting only a common intention, and useless to the elucidation of the subject. The woman bearing away the affrighted child is one of the finest figures of Poussin, although not superior to that of Sapphira, which is drawn with an elegance and fidelity apparent to the least discerning. It must be acknowledged, that, in wishing to give this figure the livid colour of death, the artist has incautiously given it the appearance of stone, which, in some measure, justifies the opinion of those who have reproached this distinguished painter with too much neglecting nature for the study of the antique, and to such a point as often to introduce in his works, the resemblance of several Grecian statues,
The general tone of this picture is harmonious without being brilliant; the light is equally dispersed, and circulates throughout. Had the artist bestowed a little more address in the colouring of his flesh, this composition might be regarded as perfect.