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Extreme Unction, painting made by Nicolas Poussin

Extreme Unction (or ‘Final Anointing’) is one of a set of seven scenes representing the sacraments of the Catholic Church, painted in Rome c. 1638-40 for Poussin’s friend and patron, the renowned connoisseur and antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo. The scene depicts a dying man being anointed with oil in accordance with the rites of the ancient Roman church.

Dominating the composition is the priest, accompanied by two acolytes, one of whom holds a copy of the liturgy on which the word ‘Unc-tio’ can be discerned. Poussin beautifully captures emotions of the onlookers - the dying man’s mother who gently cradles his head, his wife who covers her face in an expression of inconsolable grief, and his daughter, whose hands are joined in silent prayer. By doing so Poussin shows us that death affects not only the dying, but those they leave behind.

The Sacrament series was acquired in 1785 by the Duke of Rutland through an intermediary in Rome, and with the active encouragement of Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy.