Nicolas Poussin - Narcissus and Echo

by Alexandra Tuschka


An impressive lack of relationship prevails in this picture. Three people whose lines of sight do not meet, whose actions do not relate to each other, three people in their own worlds. In front, already completely abandoned, lies Narcissus. He was a beautiful youth, but he spurned his admirers from both sexual camps. Among others, the nymph Echo, who was ordered by the gods to repeat only the last words and sounds of the others. A prayer of the spurned was heard by the gods and the revenge was sweet: by a curse Narcissus was to be given the same pain as the spurned. However, his object of desire was none other than himself. One day, when he saw himself reflected in the water, he fell in love. But every time he tried to kiss or touch his image, it blurred. Narcissus became so consumed with his "counterpart" that he passed away and a daffodil grew in his place. This flower is still said today to look pretty, but not to smell good.


Poussin colored the painting surface completely brown before the actual motif, which is noticeable in this work. The whole takes place true to the text (after Ovid's Metamorphoses) at a grove. Nature studies are handed down by Poussin in abundance. Also daffodils already grow at the head end. Echo nestles against a rock in the background. This


This representation is based on the tradition that she withdrew from shame and disgrace over unrequited love into caves, rocks and forests and her body also consumed and finally dissolved until only her voice, the echo, remained.


The putto on the right holds a torch. This probably represents Echo's inextinguishable love for Narcissus. His fleshy, reddish body could not appear more contrasting in comparison to the lifeless, pale body of Narcissus. The clothes laid down on the rock, along with hunting tools, indicate the young man's profession: he was a hunter.


Nicolas Poussin - Narcissus and Echo

Oil on canvas, c. 1629-1630, 74 × 100 cm, Musée du Louvre in Paris