Extreme Unction // Nicolas Poussin / National Gallery / Fitzwilliam Museum

I have been carrying around a large postcard of Nicolas Poussin’s first version of Extreme Unction (from his first set of Seven Sacraments, commissioned by the Italian patron Cassiano dal Pozzo in the early 17th Century) for a little while now. Although aside from the fact that it is considered to be among Poussin’s finest works, and is one of the 5 of the set remaining in the UK, I don’t claim to be aware of the particular historical importance of the painting, it is undeniably moving and beautiful. The announcement that the painting will remain in the UK’s national collection therefore comes as very good news.

The painting has been subject to a rushed funding campaign to secure its place in the national collection in less than three months before it was to be put up for sale (due to inheritance tax reasons) by the Dukes of Rutland, its owners since the 18th Century. Three quarters of the £3.9m raised has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund – thanks for playing.

Londoners can view the painting in the National Gallery, alongside four of the Sacraments from the first series, where it has been on display for some decades, until the end of this coming week. It will then be moved to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for a December unveiling. I look forward to seeing it.

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