Nicolas Poussin: “Armide and Renaud”

Nicolas Poussin (1594 -1665) was a French painter who was mainly active in Italy. He is predominantly known for his depictions of dramatic narrative, but also for the way in which he painted the human passions. With a style seeking to be on the equilibrium between classical and baroque, his primary concern was the interpretation of the subject matter, but also the transmission of a story through his paintings in the most emotional manner possible.

Early 2022, Art Recognition was asked to authenticate the painting Armide and Renaud, which resembles a version displayed in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. The discovery of this painting considerably enriches our knowledge of Poussin’s early works, and allows a chronological readjustment to the early 1630s, eliminating the Berlin version dated in 1637.

In light of technological advancements since the initial authentication in early 2022, our client has approached us in early 2024 to conduct a re-evaluation of the painting titled Armide and Renaud.

According to the Berlin State Museums, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the painting’s attribution was disputed for more than a hundred years. After restoration and technical analyses, it was argued to be by Nicolas Poussin. Moreover, Armide and Renaud was produced in 1637 according to the historian Félibien. It has been reproduced subsequently into an engraving by Guillaume Chasteau.

The painting brought by our client represents an important addition to the knowledge we have so far of Poussin’s early work. As mentioned by Christopher Wright in his expertise, it is possible to see the differences between the client’s image and the work exhibited in Berlin, in which Poussin introduced many small changes and two important ones. The first is the introduction of a small column in the right background that replaces a small branch. The second is the removal of three tree trunks. This makes the whole composition lighter and much more open. The painting Armide and Renaud is part of the revision of the Catalogue Raisonné of Christopher Wright published by the Chaucer Press in London.

Art Recognition system at work …

Our proprietary deep convolutional neural network has first learned the artist’s discriminative features from the training data. This learning process is independent and there is no interference in any way.

In early 2022, we started by gathering 204 authentic images by the master Nicolas Poussin to train, optimize and validate our model. Complementing this, a curated selection of 204 non-Poussin images forming a contrasting dataset was fed to the AI model. Since the paintings exhibit high variability in terms of aspect ratios, we employed a particular preprocessing strategy to capture both fine details and coarse structures. After having split images into non-overlapping patches, the final dataset contained 2604 data. Once the robustness of the trained neural network was tested on a validation set, we passed the image of the painting Armide and Renaud through the AI. It compared the features learned from the training images with those on the image in question. Based on this comparison, the AI returned a class probability of 78.90% for a positive response (‘authentic’).

Supported by the latest advancements in our technology, we revisited the analysis, which now suggests a heightened class probability of 84% for a positive result (‘authentic’).

To conclude, the client’s painting provides a considerable source of information on Nicolas Poussin’s early works. It indicates that the composition originated around 1630 and not 1637 as suggested by the Berlin version. Thanks to this painting, it was possible to compare the differences and similarities with the version in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

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