Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Ordination. Estimate: £15 million to £20 million.

London – On 7 December 2010 in London, Christie’s will offer a masterpiece from one of the most celebrated groups of paintings in European history. Ordination by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) will highlight the Old Masters and 19th Century Art Evening Sale where it will be presented for sale for the first time in over 225 years by the Trustees of the Belvoir Estate. It is expected to realise £15 million to £20 million.

Richard Knight, International Co-Head of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie's, said: “We are honoured to have been entrusted with the sale of Nicolas Poussin's 'Ordination'. One of the Sacraments, 'Ordination' formed part of the set of seven, a commission to Poussin by one of Rome's most celebrated collectors. The pictures, for which there was no iconographical precedent, became a prize coveted by Popes and Kings. Poussin is without question one of the greatest of all French painters whose influence on the development of European Art from the 17th Century onwards cannot be overstated. Like Titian before him and his contemporaries Caravaggio and Velazquez, he developed a personal, innovative and highly rigorous style of outstanding originality.  His work has been deeply influential on generations of artists up to the present day.

The market for the finest Old Masters continues to show great strength. In the past year we have offered masterpieces by such towering figures as Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt. It is works by such artists as these that have attracted new collectors from around the world, eager to acquire great art of historical importance. We expect wide international interest and excitement from museums, collectors and the art market generally, when Poussin's remarkable 'Ordination' appears in our next sale in London on 7th December.”

A spokesman for the Trustees said: “After careful consideration the Trustees have made the extremely difficult decision to offer at Christie’s one of the 5 remaining works from the Rutland Sacraments. The original group of 7 pictures was acquired by the 4th Duke of Rutland in 1785 but was divided when ‘Penance’ was lost in a fire, and when ‘Baptism’ went to the National Gallery in Washington in 1946. The proceeds released from the sale of the painting will enable us to realise our core aims of securing the restoration and long-term preservation of Belvoir Castle and Estate. The paintings have been on public display at Belvoir for many years and we have been very happy to lend them to the National Gallery for the last 7 years for the public’s greater enjoyment. Following the successful sale of ‘Ordination’, it is our hope that the 4 remaining paintings will go back on public display at the National Gallery in London.”

Ordination by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) is one of five remaining works which once formed the renowned group of 7 Sacraments acquired by the 4th Duke of Rutland in 1785. One of the most celebrated groups of paintings in the entire history of European art it was executed in the 1630s for Cassiano dal Pozzo, a celebrated antiquary and collector in Rome. The group has since been divided; Penance perished in a fire and Baptism went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Cassiano dal Pozzo was one of Poussin’s first and most important patrons. His commission of the Sacraments saw Poussin painting a series of works showing how the earliest Christians lived and worshipped in ancient times, connecting the everyday present of papal Rome with the epoch of the Caesars. Such a thing had never been done before. Although earlier artists had often made a conscious attempt to show Christ and the Apostles in the dress of their time, none had done it with such an exhaustive attention to detail, and commitment to accuracy. The originality of the series was such that its fame quickly spread far and wide.

When Poussin was summoned to France by Cardinal Richelieu to serve as First Painter to King Louis XIII, he acquired an important new patron in Paul Fréart de Chantelou, a Parisian diplomat who was determined to secure for himself and for France another version of the pictures that had brought such glory to Cassiano, to Rome and to Poussin. This second set is that which is now in the collection of the Dukes of Sutherland, and on loan to The National Gallery of Scotland.

The family collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo’s descendants quickly became a ‘must-see’ landmark of the Grand Tour, and when Sir Robert Walpole attempted to acquire the first group of Sacraments for his collection at Houghton Hall – where he assembled one of the greatest collections in European history - they became the subject of one of the first formal export blocks in history; the export license was denied by the Pope himself, resulting in the cancellation of the Walpole sale. The dealer and agent James Byres could only manage to arrange the sale of the pictures to Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland (1754- 1787), by having copies painted (allegedly in the space of a single day) and substituted for the originals, so that they could be smuggled out of Italy.

The 4th Duke was forming a collection to rival Sir Robert Walpole’s, with the advice of none other than Sir Joshua Reynolds, who undoubtedly supported the Duke’s interest in the first group of Sacraments. Reynolds would have known them well from his travels in Italy. When the original seven Rutland Sacraments arrived in London in 1786, they created a stir. King George III expressed a desire to see the 4th Duke’s triumphant new acquisition, and it was Sir Joshua Reynolds who had the privilege and the pleasure of showing the Rutland Poussins to the King, at the Royal Academy in 1787.

The Seven Sacraments took pride of place in the collection at Belvoir Castle not long after their acquisition by the 4th Duke, and hung there almost without break well into the 21st century. One of them, Penance, perished in a fire; another, Baptism, was acquired by The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1946. The remaining five were lent to the landmark exhibitions, Poussin: Sacraments and Bacchanals at The National Gallery of Scotland in 1981, and Nicolas Poussin, 1594- 1665, at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Royal Academy in London, 1994-1995, and have been on loan to The National Gallery, London, since 2003.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) is recognised as one of the greatest and most influential artists in European art history. Born in France, he moved to Italy in the 1620s where he spent most of his life championing a renaissance in Classical painting at a time when Baroque was the most common style. Having moved to Rome, Poussin soon found wealthy patrons and established an impressive reputation. In 1640 he was summoned by Louis XIII and returned to France as First Painter in Ordinary to the King. He executed a number of prestigious works but quickly grew tired of the jealousy inferred on him by competing artists, returning to Rome in 1643 where he remained until his death.