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Poussin's virtual reality

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The great French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) was meticulous in the preparation of his paintings. This was known to have involved the use of a device his contemporaries referred to as a ‘great machine’, a miniature stage set using small wax figurines which allowed him to ‘rehearse’ the perspectival setting and fall of light and shade in an imagined space.

Following contemporary descriptions, artist Andrew Lacey, in collaboration with artist Siân Lewis and cabinet maker Robin Williams, has carefully recreated a replica of Poussin’s ‘machine’ based on the composition of Poussin’s masterpiece, 'Extreme Unction' (1638-40), acquired by the Museum in 2012. The result is a fascinating insight into the working methods of one of the world’s greatest painters. See it for yourself in Gallery 7.

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