Claude Lorrain  
Claude Lorrain
Claude's pastoral idylls

The Judgement of Paris
National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C

Claude (Claude Gellee, 1600-82), whose Frenchness was marked by adding "Lorrain" to his name, was a fellow inhabitant of Rome with Poussin. Claude too is a very great artist, but not an intellectual. Where Poussin thought out a work, Claude used his intuition. One understood the classic world, the other entered it by imagination: both visions are wonderful.
Claude is forever making us free of the classical paradise-that-never-was (or at least, not literally) so that it is subliminally the essence of his work. He sees the landscape of the Roman Campagna (a low-lying plain surrounding Rome) as bathed in a golden light, a place in harmony with the nymphs or else with the heroes of the Bible. We feel it is much the same for Claude whether we gaze across the wooded hills with Paris and the three goddesses he must assess to find the most beautiful in The Judgment of Paris, or with the biblical Isaac and Rebekah, who have come to celebrate their marriage in Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. The "subject" is not what the title indicates. Paris and Isaac and Rebekah are excuses, pretexts for his venture into the lovely lost world of pastoral poetry.

Both landscapes are made glorious by their trees, by the amazing sense they provide of immense spaciousness. The eye roams untrammeled to the distant hills and follows the curves of the shining waters. It is not a real landscape, but its power to arouse emotion is real.

To the modern eye, The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah might seem to work better than The Judgment of Paris if only because Claude's great weakness is thought to be his painting of the human figure. In The Marriage the tiny human forms dancing and feasting in the glade are as removed from us in space as they are in time. We stand on a height looking down, and although in the Bible this marriage was an important event for the continuance of the "seed of Abraham," it is the landscape that matters here, that dwarfs the human celebrants into relative insignificance. Claude clearly recognized this by his very title. Yet the landscape, so shadowed, so immemorial, does not fight the theme of marriage; it reinforces it.

Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah
Oil on canvas, 149 x 197 cm
National Gallery, London

In The Judgment of Paris we are much closer to the drama. The four actors (five if we include the infant Cupid, who clings to his mother) are fairly large and also fairly individualized. The painting captures a moment at the start of the judgment. Juno, as queen, is the first of the three goddesses to speak, putting her case as the most beautiful to Paris. He is perching rather insecurely on his rock, almost dislodged by the vigor of her approaches. Minerva, as befits a wise woman, abstracts herself from the scene and in so doing becomes its appropriate but unwitting center. It is on her white body, as she leans forward to tie her sandal, that Claude's golden light so lovingly lingers.

Very occasionally theme matters in Claude, as in his last painting, Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Silvia. Here again is the whole lovely expanse of nature, but this time it is all affected by the dreadful certainty that murder is to be done and the balance of the Italian pre-Roman peace destroyed. Claude homes in on the tension of the one moment when Ascanius would still be able, if he chose, to hold back the arrow. The world waits in fear, and stag and man are locked in puzzled questioning. We need not know the legend to guess what will happen. We have indeed destroyed our sacred stag and brought down upon ourselves the end of peace. All the tragedy of the daily newspaper is implicit in this great painting.

Sister Wendy

Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia
Oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Landscapes, Light and Legends

Restrained Romanticism

An indescribable enchantment informs his work. Claude Lorraine, a pure soul, hears in nature the voice of consolation. He repeats its words. To those who immerse themselves in his pictures -their consummate artistry and finish make this a great pleasure indeed - no further word is needed.

Jacob Burckhardt, The Cicerone, 1855

The Pope, the Spanish King, cardinals and Roman nobles showered him with commissions. Louis XIV of France, the first notable collector of his work, greatly admired the painter Claude Gellee, who took the name of his birthplace, Lorraine, as his surname. When he was twelve or thirteen, he moved to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life, with the exception of two years in France. In Italy he was caught up in the enthusiasm for antiquity and the Middle Ages. Claude Lorrain loved painting fantastic landscapes filled with temples, palaces, ruins and magnificent trees of his own invention. He not only worked over his compositions, he staged the scenes. His handling of light was what made him unique; indeed, Lorrain is famous for being the first painter to exploit overtly the manifold possibilities offered by the play of light and atmospheric effects. His paintings of seaport scenes with the sun reflecting off the surface of the water have earned him his reputation as a master of landscape painting. The Romantic philosopher Carl Gustav Carus raved about Lorram's "mild wafting of southern breezes" with all their "clarity inspiring sensibility". Johann Wolfgang von Goethe owned twenty-seven Lorrain etchings. In his Italian journey, Goethe feels at a loss for words to express his debt to Lorrain: "There are no words to describe the clear haze hovering over the coasts when we used to go towards Palermo on the most lovely afternoons; the purity of contour, the softness of the whole, the subtle gradation of tones, the harmony of sky, sea and land. He who has seen it possesses it for a lifetime. Now I begin to appreciate Claude Lorrain."

Lorrain had always focused on landscape. However, he used his shady foregrounds as settings for mythological and biblical scenes, such as Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheha. There are no literary references to the event. The Old Testament merely describes the legendary queen's stay in Jerusalem, where she visited King Solomon in the tenth century BC to ascertain whether his wisdom was all it was reputed to be. The subject-matter of the painting, which was commissioned by a nephew of Pope Innocent X in 1648, the last year of the Thirty Years' War, is purely a product of the artist's own poetic imagination. Yet, Lorrain was not the only artist enthralled by the Queen of Sheba. In his play entitled The Sibyl of the Orient or The Great Queen of Sheba, the Spanish playwright Calderon de la Barca writes: "Where the sun's first cradle stands, where the light begins the travail of his daily journey, there lies a fertile, rich land like a thousand gardens of narcissi. This place, which glows so delightfully in the young beams of day, is ruled by the Queen of Sheba."

K. Reichold, B. Graf

Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba
Oil on canvas, 148 x 194 cm
National Gallery, London

Landscape with Shepherds
Oil on canvas, 68,8 x 91 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Landscape with Rest in Flight to Egypt
Oil on canvas, 102 x 134 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Landscape with Paris and Oenone
Oil on canvas, 119 x 150 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

The Rape of Europa
Oil on canvas, 100 x 137 cm
Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Landscape with Acis and Galathe
Oil on canvas, 100 x 135 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

Landscape with Apollo and Mercury
Oil on canvas, 74,5 x 110,5 cm
Wallace Collection, London

Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Oil on canvas, 113 x 157cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg


Coast Scene with the Rape of Europa
Oil on canvas, 134,6 x 101,6 cm
Royal Collection, London

The Expulsion of Hagar
Oil on canvas, 107 x 140 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Landscape with Aeneas at Delos
Oil on canvas, 100 x 134 cm
National Gallery, London

A Seaport at Sunrise
Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Aeneas's Farewell to Dido in Carthago
Oil on canvas, 120 x 149,2 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helion (Parnassus)
Oil on canvas, 98 x 135 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Landscape with Noli Me Tangere Scene
Oil on canvas, 84,5 x 141 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt