Key to the Sacred Pattern

06 February 2016

Nicholas Poussin's The Shepherds at Arcadia Featured in the Film Monuments Men

If there are such things as “constants” in the enduring Priory of Sion, Rennes-le-Chateau and post 1307 Knights Templar mysteries, Nicholas Poussin’s painting The Shepherds of Arcadia (also known in French as Les Bergers d’Arcadie or by the Latin inscription featured in the painting, Et in Arcadia Ego) would be at the head of the list. The Shepherds of Arcadia, due to works like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and TheDa Vinci Code, has become a something of a mascot for the hunt for the Holy Grail, unearthing the lost treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, and any number of other conspiracy theories. Even if Poussin had no greater machinations than to create a painting, the fact that Shepherds has come to represent the quest the unobtainable is appropriate. The subject shepherds and their female counterpart have seemingly just discovered the inscription, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, and are questioning the meaning of tomb’s epigram. I can think of few better personal visual representations of delving into the unknown than Shepherds. I was able to view The Shepherds of Arcadia a few years back at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, which only went to further that symbolism in my own mind. 

Nicholas Poussin's The Shepherds at Arcadia
Of course, once the thought of a visual ends up having a meaning for you, it’s rather easy to pick that image out in seemingly random places. One of the unexpected places I spotted The Shepherds of Arcadia was in the widely panned the George Clooney film Monuments Men (2014). The film is loosely based on Allied efforts during the Second World War to secure art looted by the Nazis. For what history Monuments Men gets wrong, the film does, at least, let the public know that there were men and women who risked their lives to preserve the shared cultural heritage art represents.

In keeping with my own personal feelings about The Shepherds of Arcadia, I thought it was rather appropriate that around the four minute mark in Monuments Men, Poussin’s painting makes an appearance. In the scene, a German officer is making it quite clear to an art curator, played by Cate Blanchett, just who is in charge of Paris’ works of art. While the image of a Nazi standing in front of Shepherds is cringe-worthy, it was nice to see that someone in the set department of Monuments Men included the painting along with other, more recognizable, works of European art. One can make their own conclusions as to why The Shepherds of Arcadia was included in such a prominent fashion in this film, but I would rather recognize the painting’s insertion as a nod to the caliber of artist Poussin was rather than being part of a hidden agenda.

Poussin's The Shepherds of Arcadia as featured in Monuments Men
Poussin's The Shepherds of Arcadia as featured in Monuments Men
I had actually just about forgotten The Shepherds of Arcadia turned up in Monuments Men until I saw a recent episode of NBC’s The Blacklist. While The Shepherds of Arcadia is not in the show, one of Poussin’s other paintings, Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion is featured at the tail end of “Mr. Gregory Devry, No. 95” (The Blacklist season 3 episode 11). It would seem that the themes of mystery and intrigue get heaped on Poussin’s works in a variety of corners...

A rather hasty screen grab of Poussin's Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion as seen in The Blacklist

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