The Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter)

Nicolas Poussin
French (1594–1665)
17th century
c. 1636-40
Oil on canvas
37 3/4 x 47 7/8 in. (95.9 x 121.6 cm)
AP 2011.01
Currently On View
The Sacrament of Ordination is from one of the most celebrated groups of paintings in the entire history of art. The set depicting each of the Seven Sacraments was commissioned from Poussin by the antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo, secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. To illustrate ordination—the taking of holy orders to become a priest—Poussin depicted the gospel account of Christ giving the keys of heaven and earth to the kneeling apostle Peter, showing the authority vested in him as head of the Roman church: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church . . . I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18–19). Poussin infused the picture with emotional power, conveyed through the varied gestures and expressions of each apostle. The men discoursing in the distance may refer to the grove of ancient philosophers, recalling the old order that gives way to the new order instituted by Christ. The figure at the far right, with his face obscured in shadow, is Judas Iscariot, who will betray Christ. Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, purchased the Seven Sacraments from the heirs of Cassiano dal Pozzo in 1785 and installed them at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire. The duke had consulted the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, who proclaimed the series to be “the greatest work of Poussin, who was certainly one of the greatest Painters that ever lived.” Of the original seven paintings, the Duke of Rutland retains Confirmation, Eucharist, and Marriage. Penance was destroyed in a fire in 1816, and Baptism was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1946 and Extreme Unction by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 2012.

Provenance

Commissioned by Cavaliere Cassiano dal Pozzo [1588–1657], Rome; by inheritance to his brother, Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo [d. 1689], Rome; by inheritance to his son, Gabriele dal Pozzo [d. 1695], Rome; by inheritance to his son, Cosimo Antonio dal Pozzo [died c. 1739], Rome; pledged by Pozzo to Marchese del Bufalo, Rome, as payment for debt [Bufalo offered his set of Poussin's Seven Sacraments to King Louis XV of France in 1729 when Bufalo ran into financial difficulties]; returned to Cosimo Antonio dal Pozzo, Rome, when debt paid, in either February 1730 or February 1732; by inheritance to his daughter, Maria Laura dal Pozzo Boccapaduli, Rome; by inheritance to the Boccapaduli family, Rome, who attempted to sell the series to Sir Robert Walpole [d. 1745], but the export license was denied by the Pope; sold in 1785 by the Boccapaduli family through (James Byres, Rome) to Charles Manners, 4th duke of Rutland [1754–1787], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, John Henry Manners, 5th duke of Rutland [1778–1857], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, Charles Cecil John Manners, 6th duke of Rutland [1815–1888], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his brother, John James Robert Manners, 7th duke of Rutland [1818–1906], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, Henry John Brinsley Manners, 8th duke of Rutland [1852–1925], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th duke of Rutland [1886–1940], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, Charles John Robert Manners, 10th duke of Rutland [1919–1999], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; by inheritance to his son, David Charles Robert Manners, 11th duke of Rutland [b. 1959], Belvoir Castle, Grantham, Leicestershire; purchased from the Trustees of the 11th Duke of Rutland Poussin Settlement by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2011.