NICOLAS POUSSIN, The Abduction of the Sabine Women, (1633-34)
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART | PERMANENT COLLECTION
The actors have forgotten. One of the women has forgotten her real name and maybe the rest of them have as well, as has he and his friends. All they know now is the horror of their current chaos, barely bearable. Dido’s heart is destroyed, Eve is unable to look, Scheherazade buys her time, the men are filled with adrenaline, the women with confusion, the shadows with direction, the babies with none—and everyone hears, “Pause!”
They are frozen in surprise. And frozen, too, in the scene’s absurdity as their awareness thaws. One man, still leaning left against the rightward tide and pointing his blade up toward the would-be king, looks out at the director. (The way the ripe must feel the raw can’t tell, so says Rumi.) His position is uncomfortable mid-stride, burdened by body parts which he shares with his temporary enemies. His right arm is backwards. “The scene is backwards,” the director says. Everyone is at a loss. They are Italian and cannot understand his French. But Poussin translates the lines. And the heavy block building behind, with its three rectangular window holes, peers over the pool of people below, their flashes of pure blues.
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