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TRACY R. TWYMAN | Nicolas Poussin and Nicolas Fouquet

By Tracy R. Twyman

Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)

Nicolas Fouquet was the Superintendent of Finances to Louis XIV. According to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, he was “the wealthiest and most powerful individual in the kingdom,” and “was sometimes called the true king of France.” He also planned to take over Brittany and become the duke of an independent duchy. His mother and brother Charles were both members of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, a front organization for the Priory of Sion, and Charles was the archbishop of Narbonne, located in the Languedoc. In 1656, Nicolas Fouquet, for some unknown reason, sent his brother Louis, a priest, to Rome. It was on this occasion that Louis wrote the following letter:

“He and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail — things which will give you, through Monsieur Poussin, advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him, and which, according to him, it is possible that nobody else will ever discover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these are things so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal.”

Whether or not kings managed to draw the secret from him, King Louis XIV certainly caught wind that something was up, and that it had something to do with Nicolas Poussin. For in 1661, he had Nicolas Fouquet arrested on murky charges of “sedition,” and “misappropriation of funds.” He seized all of Fouquet’s property, and insisted on solely, personally, privately going through Fouquet’s papers and documents himself.

Meanwhile, the prosecution of Fouquet became the “trial of the century,” lasting for four years, with public opinion split, during which time the brother, Louis Fouquet, died. The Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement used all powers available to them, including the membership of one of Fouquet’s judges in their order, to try to get the charges dismissed, or the sentence demanded — death — diminished. The court finally decided on eternal banishment as an appropriate punishment. King Louis, furious, had the entire panel of judges replaced with those he found more compliant. They still refused to put Fouquet to death, and sentenced him instead to life in prison. The king then dictated the conditions. He was kept in what we would now call “solitary confinement,” where he could neither write nor speak, and the soldiers guarding him were forbidden to talk to him on penalty of death. Some authors theorize that Fouquet was, in fact the Man in the Iron Mask.

Coincidentally, in 1665, the same year in which Nicolas Fouquet was imprisoned, Nicolas Poussin died. For the next twenty years, King Louis jockeyed for possession of what he regarded as Poussin’s most important work: The Shepherds of Arcadia. When he finally got a hold of it, he did not put it on public display, but hid it away in his private quarters, and let no one view it without his expressed permission.

Curiously, although Nicolas Fouquet went down in disgrace, his grandson became the Marquis of Belle-Isle and, as Holy Blood, Holy Grail puts it, “the single most important man in France.” In 1718 he traded Bell-Isle to the King of France, and received in return the duchies of Longueville and Gisors, both locations associated with families of Merovingian blood. Twenty-four years later, Gisors, with Fouquet as its duke, was declared a “premiere duchy.”

Not far from Gisors is les Andelys, the small town in which, in 1594, Nicolas Poussin was born. Early in his career he moved to Rome, only returning once to France, in the 1640s, under orders from Cardinal Richelieu, who had hired him to do a special job. Poussin’s correspondence and papers reveal that, from the safety of Rome, he was heavily involved in the Fronde. He was also a keeper of secrets. His personal motto, with which he would sign his autograph, was “Tenet Confidentiam.”

The Poussin work in question, The Shepherds of Arcadia, did not just spontaneously generate. It was based on an earlier painting of his, Et in Arcadia Ego, containing the same elements, which was itself based on a painting also called Et in Arcadia Ego by Giovanni Francesco Guercino, dating from 1618. Poussin’s version of Et in Arcadia Ego includes the river god Alpheus, also the name of the “underground stream” of Rene d’Anjou’s Arcadia, which set the precedent upon which both of these artists had designed their paintings. All three works — the two Et in Arcadia Egos and The Shepherds of Arcadia — contain the shared elements of a tomb, shepherds, and the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego.” In his own illustrations Rene d’Anjou had depicted the underground stream in Arcadia issuing from something that looks somewhat like a tomb. The skull in Guercino’s painting is a motif used, among other things, in the mysteries of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. Interestingly, in the painting, the skull appears to have been trepanned in the manner of the Merovingian kings. It is also interesting to note that Masonic themes can be found throughout Guercino’s other works, even though Masonry as a formal institution was not yet in existence. One, called The Raising of the Master, even depicts the story of Hiram Abiff, architect of Solomon’s Temple, who is such an important figure in Freemasonry.


The Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin.


Et in Arcadia Ego by Guercino.

The phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego,” seemingly ambiguous in meaning, would appear to have been a sort of code during this time period for those “in the know” — members of the Priory of Sion and those with knowledge of their secrets. The concept of Arcadia as a Hermetic ideal seems to have been implicit, symbolizing the hope for a new order based on cosmic principles of divine order, the kind of world of which the Rosicrucians spoke. It is always associated with a mysterious ancient tomb of unknown import, as if the world for which they hoped was in fact a rebirth of a world that had once existed in the far-distant past, the “Golden Age” of which the ancients spoke. The phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” has also been, according to the “Priory documents,” on the official device and family crest of the house of Plantard since around the 13th century, when Jean de Plantard married Iodine de Gisors.