Nicolas Poussin - The Kingdom of Flora

by Alexandra Tuschka


Poussin combined numerous mythological anecdotes in his "Realm of Flora". In the painting from 1630, all sorts of figures from Ovid's Metamorphoses gather together. The deities shown here lived on after their death as plants.

In the center of the picture Flora, the cheerful goddess of spring, is walking through a garden scattering flowers. Around her are loosely grouped the inhabitants of the divine realm. In the left half of the picture we see Aiax, the brave hero of the Trojan War. Aiax was deluded by the goddess Athena, so that he mistook some herd animals for enemies and killed them. When he regained his senses, he threw himself on his sword, ashamed of his action.


Later, Aiax was to transform into a white carnation - here it is already growing out of the sword, pointing to impending death. Behind Aiax one sees a herm of the fertility god Priapus as a statue at the associated sacrificial altar.


In the foreground sit Narcissus and Echo. The self-absorbed Narcissus takes the opportunity to admire his reflection in the water jug. The flowers named after him, the "daffodils", are close by. Behind Narcissus, the nymph Clytia looks up to the sun god and her former lover Apollo. The latter dominates the upper half of the picture, riding on four white horses over an imposing sea of clouds.


The standing couple in the right edge of the picture are the young Crocus and the nymph Smilax. After Crocus spurned the love of Smilax, he was transformed by the goddess of love Venus into the flower of the same name. Behind the couple are Hyakinthos and Adonis. The beautiful Hyakinthos was loved by Apollo. By an accident, Hyakinthos died by the latter's hand. After the unfortunate death of his lover, Apollo made a hyacinth grow from his blood. It is this flower that the youth holds in his hands here.


Nicolas Poussin - The Kingdom of Flora

Oil on canvas, 1631, 131 x 181 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden