Narcissus and Echo – Nicolas Poussin, Oil on Canvas (Classicism)
As promised earlier on, I’ll be writing this next piece about a young, beautiful and mythological figure whose story has been written down very depicting by Ovidius in his “Metamorphoses” (III. 339 -512) . His name is Narcissus, he who by many would have ‘invented’ art. But why? First of all it’s important to understand his story;
Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by it’s fading”. W.H Auden
Narcissus (which is derived from “Narkissos“, greek for “Sleep, Numbness“) was a Greek hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia. He was a young man who was renowned for his beauty, which made him so proud that he disdained all those who loved him.The beautiful nymph Echo was one of the unlucky few who began to love him. But she also got rejected by the young stallion. Who the died by the pangs of love, a heartache and changed into an echo. Even boys fell in love with the youngling. After one of these guys got repudiated, he prayed to the gods that he (Narcissus) also would love someone whose heart was not his to be gained. Nemesis the goddess of revenge heard his calling and made it happen. One day after hunting Narcissus decided to go and rest for a while at a nearby pool, but as he looked in the water he saw the mirage of a young and astonishingly beautiful man, who he fell in love whit straight away. But every time he tried to touch his lover, he faded away. He remained their seated knowing that his love would be unsatisfiable and changed into a flower, “a narcis”
You might be wondering; “why is then, that Narcissus could be seen as the inventor of painting”? Why did he create or discovered art? What’s makes this story so remarkable towards the history of art?
“… they have the divine power to grant eternal life”
It’s all about the metamorphose into a flower; Leon Battista Alberti tells us in ‘de pictura” that painting is only about embracing the object’s surface”, Narcissus realizes that nature can produce mirages, reflections.Which makes him the founder, the one who discovered the meaning that characterizes paintings (Before Romanticism); the representation of an empiric and perceptible reality, it’s the mirror that reflects reality. Like the water was Narcissus’ mirror. None the less paintings would have some kind of divinity, divine powers (Alberti), for example a painting has the ability to show us something/ someone that has been dead/gone for a long time in a very lively way, it has the power to give live to something. It has the power to grant eternal life. It is said that Rhodos wasn’t burned to the ground by king Demitrius because of the painting (made by Protogenes) that was hung there. The painting was the only thing that saved them from damnation. Ancient writers like Trismegistus proclaim that art was created simultaneously with the descendant of the humans on earth. It seems clear to me that art, especially paintings have meant a lot in the history of mankind. It has been worshipped and sold for the most astounding prices.