Nicholas Poussin was a French painter who spent most of his working life in Italy. His work is characterized by an interest in religious and historical subjects, often expressed in large landscape form. This large oil painting of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Roman army under Titus is typical of Poussin's work, even though the background is a cityscape rather than a landscape. The work was undoubtedly inspired in part by Josephus’ Jewish War, which chronicled the build up to the Jewish Revolt against Rome, and ultimate defeat in 70 CE after initial successes.
In a busy and powerful image, Poussin depicts the massacre of the Jewish army in the foreground, the sack of the Temple buildings to the left and the surrounding buildings on fire. Titus is a focal point, thanks to the brilliant white hue of his horse and his raised hand. Josephus, who became an apologist for the Romans, was at pains in the Jewish War to point out that Titus had tried to save the Temple and the city from being burnt and destroyed, but had not managed to hold back his soldiers. His raised hand signifies his vain attempt to save the Temple and its environs. The raised gaze of Titus and some of his soldiers, to a focal point out of the picture frame in the top left hand corner, has also drawn critical attention. What they are looking at is not clear, but their may be meant to point to the presence of the Divine. Whether God is present in support or condemnation is left ambiguous.
Notably, some of the details in Poussin's rendering of the city and the temple have been drawn from Rome, not Jerusalem. Thus the Temple resembles the Pantheon in Rome, although some of the architectural details (such as the colonnades of the Stoa and the placement of the sanctuary on the right) are historically accurate. But Titus and his horse resemble one of the equine statues of Marcus Aurelius that used to stand on the Capitoline. As frequently the case in other artistic renderings of the Jerusalem's destruction—see, for example, the work by Jean Fouquet—this key historical moment is visualised using an array of sources and imagery, not all of which relate to the historical city.
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