This essay begins with a letter by Nicholas Poussin. On November 24, 1647, Poussin wrote his reply from Rome to his patron and friend Paul Fréart de Chantelou in Paris. Poussin’s letter in question has been very often quoted for providing an understanding of the relationships between music and visual art, especially in early modernity. Its centrality, however, needs not to be overemphasized when his usage of ancient musical modes is construed not literally but in metaphorical terms as a musical analogy.
Yet the letter in question is of much significance in that it foreshadows some of the fault lines among musical, painterly, and poetic expression.
The present essay aims to unfold some illuminative explanations capable of demonstrating to what extent and why Poussin’s letter on mode has been considered important. To achieve its aim, the author undertakes a close reading of both the text and context of the letter in question, and meticulously examines not only Gioseffo Zarlino’s text as its inter-text but also his two self-portraits of 1649 and 1650 as a sort of hypertext in sense of the word in semiotics, that may be regarded as an example of practical application of his theory of mode.