The Golden Age Restored
Nicolas Poussin, Pope Alexander VII and Christina of Sweden and the Roman
“There is no higher religion than the truth”
Motto of the Theosophical Society
As we have already hinted at previously in April 1656 the Abbé Fouquet wrote tohis brother Nicolas Fouquet who was the superintendent of finances at the court of  Louis XIV. The passage is well known and its authenticity is not disputed. It says:

“He [Poussin] and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be ableto explain to you in detail–things which will give you, Through MonsieurPoussin, 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 earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal"

”This letter is even recognised by the Poussin expert Sir Anthony Blunt and is probably one of the most enigmatic pieces of information to come out of this whole affair. What are these “certain things” that the Abbé Fouquet talked about with Nicolas Poussin? What is significant that Nicolas Fouquet himself became so rich that his wealth began to rival that of the king and that Fouquet was eventually arrested and kept in confinement? The king Louis XIV bought the painting ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’ but kept it hidden in his private apartments in Versailles. Perhaps I should point out that the letter says that these “advantages” will be gained specifically through Monsieur Poussin. He does indeed appear to be the key as the decrypted parchment text stated. However the Abbé Fouquet may have underestimated the abilities of people in the centuries to come. What were the influences in Poussin’s early development and who were his acquaintances? Although of French birth Poussin spent most of his life in Rome and when he died in 1665 he was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucino close to the Via del Corso in Rome itself. In 1830 the French nobleman Chateaubriand made a dedication of a sculpture in the church to Poussin. Out of the 350 or so paintings done during Poussin’s career that he could have chosen from, Chateaubriand chose the theme ‘Les Bergere d’Arcadie as the sculpture. Why was this one chosen again? At the bottom is an inscription that says:

Do not cry piously, in this tomb Poussin lives
He has given his life without knowing himself how to die
He is quite here but, if you want to hear him speak,
It is surprising how he lives and speaks in his paintings

Poussin was born in Les Andelys, France in 1594. Les Andelys is a beautiful town in Normandy where Richard Coeur de Leon (Richard I of England and Duke of Normandy) had built the Chateau Gaillard on the site of a former Druidic Temple. Poussin was from a poor family, his father had been a soldier, and he received most of his early professional training at home. The story is that during this period Poussin wandered around France plying his trade as a painter but nothing remains of his work from this period. At the recommendation of Varin, Poussin left for Paris in 1612 where he entered the workshop of the mannerist painter J. Lallemald. His training was enhanced by independent study of Italian art from the Royal Collections. By the end of the first decade of the 17th century Poussin became a master in his own right and received commissions for the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, and the altarpiece Assumption of the Virgin. From this period of his Paris period (1612-23) only his drawings based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis have survived. In 1622 Poussin was eventually commissioned by the Jesuits to do a painting in a Notre Dame chapel and as a result he came to the attention of Giambattista Marino, the celebrated Italian poet then at the Tuscan court of Marie de Medici who was the author of the epic poem


which was dedicated to the young King Louis XIII. Marino was from Calabria and had been greatly inflenced by the polymath and scientist Giambattista Della Porta who had written Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic) and in this
book he had covered a variety of the subjects that he had investigated, including the study of: occult philosophy, astrology, alchemy, mathematics, meteorology, and natural philosophy. Another subject that he was famous for had been cryptography about which a collector of cryptographic historical documents Charles J. Mendelsohn commented:

“He [Della Porta] was, in my opinion, the outstanding cryptographer of the Renaissance. Some unknown who worked in a hidden room behind closed doors may possibly have surpassed him in general grasp of the subject, but among those whose work can be studied he towers like a giant.”

Giambattista Della Porta described the first known digraphic substitution cipher which foreshadowed the concept of polyalphabetic substitution cipher which the Vigenère cipher used in the Shepherdess Parchment which introduces Poussin to this story is probably the most well known example. Marino had also followed the philosophy of the heretic Giordano Bruno, best known as a proponent of the heliocentric theory (which we have discussed), and Tommaso Campanella who was also from Calabria. Campanella, a Rosicrucian, He had claimed that he could:
“Make a city in such a wonderful
way that only by looking at it all of the sciences
could be learned”
He called this

He went on to predict that it would be Louis XIV that would eventually go on to build such a city. Poussin went with Marino to Italy in 1623, first to Venice then in 1624, he went to Rome. The 1620s in Italy were years of intensive learning for Poussin with some active creative work and after only four years he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for a chapel in St. Peter’s Cathedral Martyrdom of St. Erasmus which occupied him from 1628 until 1629). At that period he acquired the style that we now know as Baroque and this culminated in The Virgin of the Pillar Appearing to St. James the Greater, which was ordered for a church in the Spanish Netherlands.

Marino had died in 1625 after only a few short months leaving the thirty year old Poussin alone and without means in a strange city and he was forced to do manual labour. Eventually Poussin made friends in Rome with other classical scholars, who played the main role in turning Poussin into an erudite and intellectual philosopher. Eventually this work reached the attention of the influential Cardinal Richelieu and finally came to Louis XIII and to the Louvre. Poussin was evidently frustrated and disappointed by his lack of success in the intensely competitive field of baroque altarpiece painting and he never attempted this style again. In 1629, Poussin married his landlord’s daughter. During his first period in Rome (1624-30) Poussin concentrated on mythological themes, with scenes of sweet love and inspiration from poetical works. Towards the end of the 1620’s early 1630’s Poussin painted a work that is currently in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin called:

Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons

Helios with Saturn and the four seasons

The theme alludes to Ovid’s story of Phaeton, son of Helios, and his attempt to drive the golden chariot with four horses yoked across the sky normally driven by his father. Hours yoked the horses for Phaeton and Dawn threw open her doors and he set off. But he had no skill and was soon in trouble and the climax came when he met the fearful Scorpion of the Zodiac and he dropped the reins. The horses bolted and caused the earth to catch fire. In the nick of time Jupiter, father of the God’s stopped the runaway chariot with a bolt of lighting and sent Phaeton down to earth and into the River Eridanus where he was buried by nymphs. The devoted friend of Phaeton was Cygnus who strove to resuscitate Phaeton Jupiter took pity on Cygnus and turned him into a swan and placed him into the sky. In the painting Poussin has used the Sun-God Helios in the form of Apollo; Phaeton kneels in front of him asking if he can drive the chariot.In the next decade history became the main subject of Poussin’s work. In his paintings of the 1630s the compositions are complex and compound with many characters, they remind of the classical tragedy on stage. In this period Poussin painted his Les Bergers d’Arcadie. Poussin used a special box and moulded wax figures. He first he built his compositions, then started to draw preliminary sketches, and only then did he paint. Other best known works of the period are

The Rescue of Pyrrhus
The Noble Deed of Scipio

and very popular in his time were the so-called Bacchanal series, commissioned especially by Cardinal Richelieu. One of these paintings is Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite(1634). Those paintings were supposed to decorate the cardinal’s palace, and this factindicates that the interest to Poussin in France grew. In the second half of the1630s the young artists in Paris chose to follow Poussin’s style in historical genre. The King’s officials wanted to return the artist to France but Poussin did not hurry back. He came to France only in 1640, after being virtually threatened by the King and it is interesting to note that also at this same time another invited to France against his better judgement was Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the mapmaker (more on the Cassini family later). In Paris Poussin was immediately appointed the person in charge of all art works in the King’s palaces. This caused violent jealousy on the part of other court artists; Vouet headed the opposition. For about two years Poussin painted altarpieces and canvases for Richelieu who also supervised the decorative works in the Grand Gallery in Louvre. His time in Paris was an unhappy time for Poussin and significantly in our story he only produced two paintings during this period. His schism with Caravaggio is well documented; Poussin detested the affected airs of the ‘fashionable’ painters like Caravaggio. He declared that Caravaggio was out to destroy painting and called his work “painting for lackeys”. From this it is clear that Poussin sought to achieve by his doctrine of ‘imitation’ to reproduce nature in his paintings with conformity and reality and in his letters it is clear that held a great interest in archaeology and collected old coins and became a scholar of Greek mythology. He used scientific methods, measuring statues,consulting basreliefs, studying painted vases, sarcophagi and mosaics. What is strikingly obvious when one studies Poussin is that he never painted scenes from the Gospels and when he did paint Christ he was always depicted as a weak or submissive character, for example the painting called ‘Penitence’ where he has his feet being anointed by Mary of Bethany (The Magdalene) painted for Versailles but now in the Louvre. He produced few paintings whilst at the behest of Cardinal Richelieu in Paris. ‘Penitence’ was painted for the church of St Germain en Laye at Versailles.

Another painting he produced during this period was “The miracle of St Francis Xavier” which he painted for the Jesuit novitiate. The third is a round ceiling painting called the ‘Triumph of Truth’ this he did for Richelieu’s chateau at Rueil.  The only portrait he ever painted was of himself and it is once again enigmatic for in the background is an unknown painting of a Romanesque woman embracing someone out of the picture, her headdress shows the Third Eye.
In the late 1620s, Nicholas Poussin produced a number of sketches of the Annunciation, culminating in two paintings from the 1650s, one of which still survives at Chantilly. One feels the need to ask why Poussin should paint this theme twice in such a short space of time. The Annunciation depicts Mary, mother of Jesus receiving the word from the Archangel Gabriel that she will conceive Jesus six months after Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharie conceived John the Baptist. Internal evidence suggests a 15th century influence in the first of Poussin’s paintings of the Annunciation, and the relative positions of the figures in the painting and particularly the wings are reminiscent of that in another Annunciation painted by an unknown artist. It resembles that of the Aix panel, a triptych that one London Times correspondent on the 21st January 1932 once wrote was, in his opinion, painted by a “Satanist and probably an ecclesiastic”. This suggestion carries some weight because the then Archbishop of Aix, Robert Mauvoisin was accused of sorcery and convicted of having celebrated Black Masses with the blood of small children and was condemned by Pope John XXII. There is no denying that his early 1655 painting of the Annunciation clearly shows the Archangel Gabriel with eagle’s wings and clearly is a copy of the triptych at Aix en Provence. On studying Poussin’s earlier work this does appear to be a shift from what we have come to expect, however in a short space of time he paints another depiction of the annunciation and this time the angel is fundamentally different. Annunciation 1655 Annunciation 1657. Both paintings by Nicolas Poussin But perhaps the most striking aspect of the Aix triptych is its title given to it by the inhabitants of Aix. They have given it the curious nickname:

“Le diable a vecu tranquillement dans son stoup saint de l’eau”

“The devil lived quietly in his holy water stoup”

Curiously Poussin reproduced a second version of this theme of the Annunciation in 1657 (shown on the right) and one is reminded that Poussin’s enigmatic meeting with the Abbé Fouquet took place in between these two works in 1656. The iconography is very unusual; Mary sits cross-legged like an eastern woman, her arms open wide, while the angel makes hieratic (priestly) gestures rare in 17th-century Annunciations, but more common in the 15thcentury depictions. Dr Jane Costello, an authority on the Valguarnera trial that involved Nicolas Poussin, is of the opinion that this painting was a design for a funeral monument to Poussin's friend and mentor Cassianio Del Pozzo, a distinguished antiquarian scholar. If this is the case this is a decidedly odd theme for a funeral monument. Pozzo was to be buried in the Church of Santa Maria Topa Minerva, which stood on the site of an ancient sanctuary of the goddess Isis, and Friedlaender suggests that Poussin's painting combines the characteristics of three divinities -Mary, Minerva and Isis.He also observes that the posture of the female figure seems to represent the sedes sapientiae-seat of wisdom. What is the difference between the two paintings? Well the two most striking differences are the wings of the angel and the clothing of Mary, in the 1655 version they are eagle’s wings but in the 1657 painting they are the wings of a Swan. Poussin is known to have been a profound student of ancient myths from original sources including Ripa's Iconologia and apparently constantly carried Cartari's Images of the Gods with him. He embodied Neoplatonic doctrines in his paintings and it is widely accepted that Poussin's paintings contain multiple layers of meaning, often blending Pagan and Christian themes and one of the major sourcesof this learning was from the library of Pozzo.The second Annunciation is the only late painting by Poussin that is signed and dated. It also contains a large inscription to commemorate the fact that it was painted in the reign of the Fabio Chigi otherwise known as Pope Alexander VII  (1599-1667). Poussin might have been thought to take quite a risk when he mentioned the Pope in such a painting, but it seems that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Alexander VII, elected Pope in 1655, had put an end to the Heliocentrism issue that had been proposed by Copernicus a century earlier andhad published his Index Librorum Prohibitor Alexandri VII Pontificis Maximi jussu editus which he prefaced with the Bull Speculatores Dominus Israel. It should be said that in 1655, when Poussin painted his first Annunciation, the astronomer Picard had measured a degree and from it the size of the earth. At this point a prominent Alchemist and Rosicrucian enters our story, she is Queen Christina of Sweden who was born on a prominent astrological conjunction and whom Pope Alexander VII personally baptised her into Catholicism on Christmas Day 1655 after her abdication in 1654. She later fell out with the legate in Rome, more on this enigmatic lady later. The church of Rennes le Chateau has a stained-glass-window of Mary of Bethany anointing the feet of Jesus. In the Catholic Church it is accepted that Mary of Bethany is Mary Magdalene but not so in Protestant churches. Above is another of Poussin’s paintings depicting this scene painted by Poussin in 1646 during his second period in Rome after returning from Paris.This painting is called PENITENCE and one is reminded of the pillar underneath ‘Our Virgin of Lourdes’ in the Rennes le Chateau church garden were Saunière placed the words ‘PENITENCE PENITENCE’.If you remember the reason we involve Poussin in this mystery at all is the mention of him in the parchment text. It says:


Whoever wrote this and whenever this was written it clearly refers to his most famous painting and the one that appears to have been repeated again and again from Italy to England the Classical Arcadian theme called:

 Les Bergers d’Arcadie
The Shepherds of Arcadia the second painting with this title and painted around 1638 and this currently hangs in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. It has been said that Saunière took a copy of this painting from Louvre but there is no record of this, although one is tempted to ask why one must expect there ever should have been a record. The scene is obvious and depicts the ideal utopia, the Golden Age where three shepherds and a shepherdess looking over a tomb in the idyllic landscape of Arcadia, first referred to by the Roman writer Virgil. This is a scene from what isgenerally known as the ‘Golden Age’ of man. They are contemplating the message:

‘Et in Arcadia ego’

written on this tomb suggesting that even an idyllic world there is always death –“and in Arcadia I (death) am present” hardly the Christian message of everlasting life and Poussin is by no means the only painter to have
covered this theme. The concept of a Golden Age is a common feature amongst many cultures, in India for example it is called Satya Yuga and a few modernists  notably Walter Cruttenden have surmised in his book entitled:

Lost Star of Myth and Time

that these ages have a basis of fact that is indirectly due to the motion of the solar system around another set of stars and galaxies. Poussin’s rendering of Les Bergers d’Arcadie has been copied elsewhere and most
notably at the English stately home of the Anson family at Shugborough Hall. It seems that it was Lady Anson who was the prime mover for placing the reversed frieze of Poussin’s famous painting in an alcove that was designed by Thomas Wright. The Earl of Lichfield George Anson had married Elizabeth Yorke, daughter of Philip Yorke, Lord Chancellor of Hardwicke in 1748. Her portrait was painted by Vanderbank before her marriage and she is dressed as a shepherdess. Another picture can be seen at Shugborough holding a copy of the Shepherds of Arcadia by Poussin. The Anson’s library contains works from Virgil, Ovid, Sannazaro, Sir Philip Sidney and Spenser, all authors who used Shepherds in Arcadia as a theme in their writings. One literary work which directly alluded to in Lady Anson’s letters is


by Honore D’Urfe. Lady Anson had five volumes of the 1617 edition of Astree and these are still in the library at Shugborough. L’Astree is the French equivalent of Sidney’s Arcadia but the idealised setting is in France not Greece it is also mixed with Protestant propaganda. In this version the Shepherdess is Astree named after the Goddess of Justice who is called Astrea by Virgil and Ovid. Astrea is the Virgin daughter of Zeus and Themis and is likened to the constellation of Virgo and is the Goddess of Justice because of the close proximity of the scales of Libra, she is depicted on top of the Old Bailey in London, the British Law Court.

Old Bailey

On the left SPICA (French :  l'Epi - The Sword) - centre Virgo (Astrea) - Right the scales of Justice LIBRA.

In the French version of l’Astree the shepherds and Shepherdess live on the banks of the river Lignon just west of Lyon. Interestingly this story features a Druid called Adamas and this appears to be the very first occasion in literature where the Druids are mentioned. The story also includes Meroveus the principle king of the Merovingian dynasty.

Madam Helena Blavatsky also identifies Astrea as the constellation of Virgo in her Theosophical Glossary. Lady Anson’s letters are possibly one of the keys to this mystery. In a letter to Thomas Anson on September 20th 1750 she speaks of the “Gentil Berger” and she remembers that since she left  “les delectables rives de votre belle Lignon” (delectable banks of the beautiful Lignon) she has never ceased remembering the happy moments among the “ces Vallons Fleuis, ces Collines ombrageuzes, ces Eux claires et andoyantes, et sur tout ces Bergers et Bergeres so courtois et aimable qu’un le trouve”. (These small flowered valleys, these ombrages hills, these Eux Clairs and Andoyantes and on all these Shepherds and Shepherdesses courteous and pleasant that one finds there), she continues that her heart merits the name of “Mirroir de la Vraie Reconnaissance”(Mirror of the true Reconnaissance) a feature of Astree. She also alludes to the“Fontaine de la Verite d’Amour(Fountain of trueLove) in the Palace of Isoure in which true lovers could see themselves before the evil fairy put a spell on it.

One month prior to her writing this letter in August 1750 Lady Anson wrote to her sister-in-law Jemima Grey informing her that she is copying the Duke of Devonshire’s picture “5, 6, 7 or 8 hours a day” that had been lent to her at her father’s London home at Carshalton, this is the first version of the shepherds of Arcadia that Poussin painted which is still on show at Chatsworth House, the ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire. Lady Anson died in 1760 and is buried in the Colwych parish church of Saint Michael and All the Angels and this is very significant to our story. This reference to Astree (Astrea) will be expanded upon in the final chapter however in Virgil’s Golden Age
this perfect world was under the rule of Saturn and in his fourth Eclogue he includes the prophecy of the return to this Golden Age, clearly an allusion to astrology. He says:

“Iam redit et virgo redeunt Saturnia regna”

“Now returns Virgo,
and returning Saturn reigns”

Shugborough is built in the neo-classical style and the shepherd’s monument is the gateway declaring the link to Poussin’s ideal Arcadia. A drive at Shugborough on the way to Tixall Hill crosses the river Sow and the bridge carries the inscription that is straight from Ovid’s Golden Age:


Here is perpetual spring.

Large amounts of ink have been spilled in various publications over this painting Les Bergers d’Arcadie and this phrase Et in Arcadia Ego. It is usually forgotten that the only reason we discuss Les Bergere d’Arcadie with respect to Saunière and his apparent wealth is entirely due to the large encoded parchment. The decryption says

‘Poussin Teniers Guard the Key’

and as encryption rarely uses superfluous lettering then we are talking of a specific key. This painting does indeed ‘Guard the Key’ The Key of Solomon’s Temple and remember that the name Solomon is made up of three words that mean the Sun. Why should Poussin be able to discuss “certain things” with a French priest who was brother to the king’s superintendent of Finance? Well the king of France was about to undertake a large expensive project to fix a meridian line and map the whole region of his influence and he would employ the best astronomer of the time Cassini in order to do this.

Additionally Louis XIV (The Sun King) was also involved in a major project toremodel Paris as a Sun Temple involving the Italian architect Bernini. Poussin did not finish his work in Paris and fled back to Rome, the reason normally given is that other artists, like Simon Vouet became jealous. It was in this period that Poussin also stood in some kind of conflict with the monarch. From 1642 until his death in 1665 Poussin continued to work mainly in historical genre back in Rome and this included the Seasons series (1660-64) which includes the painting for autumn entitled Grapes of the Promised Land showing some Blue grapes the size of Apples being stolen, a passage from Numbers 13:23 featuring a place called The Brook of Eshcol. One will recall that a similar tomb as the one in Poussin’s painting used to be situated at Les Pontils close to the road from Couiza to Arques and despite some incredible and futile attempts to suggest otherwise the tomb was overlooked by Rennes le Chateau up until 1989. It is said that this tomb was built in the 1930s and that because of this the detractors insist that the whole thing must be a hoax and once again we see the strange logic adopted by these people that because a tomb was built there in the 1930s then therefore one wasn’t there before this. I do not propose to waste reams of paper and at the same time bore the reader in order to enter into this discussion save to say that the rebuilding of the tomb in the 1930s in no way proves or even suggests that there wasn’t a tomb there in Poussin’s day. Indeed one could reasonably ask as to why someone thought it prudent to put a tomb in the 1930s (or any other time) on this apparently non-consecrated ground in this very spot of rocky ground that is hardly suited for burial. The site is not even overlooked but it seems that in recent years across the Couiza to Arques road it has become a favourite spot to have ones relatives, usually the female members only, buried.