Claude Gellée (1) (more commonly known as Claude Lorrain, Le Lorrain, or, simply, Claude) was born in Chamagne in the duchy of Lorraine, from which his pseudonym is derived. The exact year of his birth is not recorded, and some have suggested a possible birth year of 1604 or 1605. As a teenager, he went to Rome and then to Naples, where for two years he studied with the German landscape painter Goffredo Wals (ca. 1595-ca. 1638). Returning to Rome, he became a studio assistant to the landscape painter and interior decorator Agostino Tassi (1578-1644), who himself had studied with the Flemish landscape painter Paul Bril (1554-1626). In 1625, Claude moved back to Lorraine where in Nancy he worked for a year for Claude Deruet (1588-1660), court painter to Charles III, Duke of Lorraine. He then returned to Rome where he was to live for the remainder of his life. (2) Claude knew the French artist and landscape painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), also living in Rome, and like Poussin, Claude travelled through the Roman countryside sketching and, reportedly, painting landscapes directly from nature, a relatively new practice in Europe. In 1633, Claude joined the Accademia di San Luca, a prestigious association of Roman artists, and in that year took on a studio assistant as well as a pupil, Angeluccio. Claude’s growing fame as a landscape painter attracted the attention of important patrons, including the French ambassador Philippe de Béthune, various cardinals including Guido Bentivoglio (3) and Giulio Rospigliosi (the future Pope Clement IX), and Pope Urban VIII. The King of Spain, Philip IV, commissioned Claude to provide paintings for the Buen Retiro palace in Madrid. Claude became the preeminent landscape painter of his generation. He died in Rome on November 23, 1682.
In addition to his training with Wals and Tassi and his friendship with Poussin, Claude’s landscapes were influenced by the work of a number of contemporary artists. Paul Bril, who was working in Rome and died there the year of Claude’s return, had painted ideal landscapes of hills and ruins, a genre that was also made popular by several Italian artists including Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Domenichino (1581-1641). Claude quickly became a master of the ideal landscape genre, devising compositions of landscape and architectural elements that, although grounded in naturalism, were perfectly balanced and presented a harmonious, idealized view of nature. (4) Claude also was influenced by the work of the German painter Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), who had worked in Rome and whose strong lighting effects, involving contrasts of light and dark passages, Claude adapted. Indeed, one of Claude’s important contributions to the landscape genre was his masterly treatment of light, including, after 1640, the use of a warm, even lighting that gave his ideal landscapes greater tranquility. (5)
Claude was a master draftsman and produced numerous drawings and sketches, mostly pastoral scenes of fields, river valleys, and hills. In many cases these drawings were devoid of human figures. (6) From these studies, he painted ideal landscapes as the settings for Biblical or classical subjects, with figures populating the landscape. It is likely that Claude himself painted many of the figures in his landscapes, especially in his later paintings, although, reportedly, he did engage other artists, including Jacques Courtois (1621-ca. 1676) and Filippo Lauri (1623-1694), to add figures into his landscapes. To guard against forgeries, beginning about 1635, Claude compiled what he called his Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), now in the British Museum, London. (7) In it he made 195 drawings of his paintings, creating a record of his work that also included, on the backs of the drawings, the patron or the place for which the painting was intended and, in the second half of the book, the painting’s date.
This serene Italian landscape prominently depicts, in the left foreground, a stand of trees, one of which is windswept, and a herd of sheep grazing. At the right middle ground, a bridge is seen over a river just at the point where it forks. The river appears to meander behind the stand of trees and through the landscape until it reaches a large body of water near the horizon. Behind the bridge, a hillside, partly shrouded by trees, leads to a vertical rocky promontory possibly dotted along the top with buildings, perhaps in ruins. This promontory is inexactly depicted in a misty atmosphere, and it takes on something of the shape of the ruined remains of monumental architecture. Indeed, Roger Fry identified the promontory as “a group of castellated ruins.” (8) On a plateau at the base of the promontory, there are two small buildings; the one to the left may be a colonnaded building in ruins and the other a gabled structure with either a shallow dome and drum on its roofline or a tower behind it. (9) Another building, possibly a colonnaded temple, is seen on a plateau at the far left of the composition. The sketchy outlines of two small human figures, one standing and holding a staff, the other seated, are seen to the right of the large foreground trees. (10) At the horizon line in the center, a mountainous backdrop is mostly obscured by atmospheric mist. Reworking can be observed in the lower part of the large tree trunks. The drawing is signed by Claude and dated on the rock in the center foreground: CLAVDI / I.V. ROM / 1663.
According to Marcel Roethlisberger, this drawing is an independent, purely pastoral adaptation of two drawings of pendant paintings in the Liber Veritatis (British Museum, London), the book of autograph drawings that Claude made to record his paintings. (11) Roethlisberger suggests that the right side of the Dumbarton Oaks drawing recalls Liber Veritatis 152 (12) and the left side, 159, (13) two works that depict events in the second book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In fact, neither comparison is particularly close, although the compositional format of the Dumbarton Oaks drawing is related to that of Liber Veritatis 152. The two large trees, variations of which occur in many of Claude’s drawings and paintings, more closely recall Liber Veritatis 154. (14)
Claude’s composition for the Dumbarton Oaks drawing is strongly derived from a compositional formula that he employed throughout the 1640s: large trees at the left, a view in the middle across a meandering river—often with a bridge—to a distant horizon, and a hillside with ruins on the right. This compositional structure, which often involves depictions of ruins from the classical site at Tivoli, is found in several paintings and their related drawings made between 1642 and 1650. (15) Claude returned to this compositional formula in the 1660s, first in the 1660 Landscape with Apollo and Mercury in the Wallace Collection (16) and then in the 1667 Landscape with a Piping Shepherd in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. (17) Closest iconographically, however, to the Dumbarton Oaks drawing is a sketch or preparatory study, Landscape, by Claude and dated ca. 1660, in the British Museum. (18) Although the rocky promontory with its suggestion of architectural ruins is positioned more in the center of the composition, its verticality and the abstracted representation of the cliff side and/or ruins are similar features in both drawings. Walter Friedländer has pointed out that the Dumbarton Oaks drawing appears to be a preparatory drawing for a painting that lacks only the inclusion of figures (staffage), definition to the architecture, and color. (19) It is entirely plausible that Claude made the British Museum sketch and the Dumbarton Oaks drawing in preparation for a landscape painting, one either not undertaken or, perhaps, now lost.
(1) For the biography of Claude Lorrain, see H. Diane Russell, Claude Lorrain, 1600–1682 (Washington, D.C., 1982), and Marcel Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings (New Haven, 1961).
(2) For the history of Claude’s early life, see W. G. Constable, “The Early Work of Claude Lorrain,” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts vol. 42, no. 250 (December, 1944), 67-72.
(3) Claude’s contemporary, Filippo Baldinucci, asserts that Cardinal Bentivoglio launched the artist’s career by purchasing two landscapes by him, which brought the artist to the attention of Pope Urban VIII. These paintings are unknown, although Michael Kitson has suggested a connection with a painting now at the Kimball Art Museum. See Michael Kitson, “Claude's Earliest ‘Coast Scene with the Rape of Europa’,” The Burlington Magazine vol. 115, no. 849 (December, 1973), 775-777 and 779.
(4) See Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlöf, Ideal Landscape: Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain (New Haven, 1990).
(5) For Claude’s use of lighting effects in his paintings, see Clelia Nau, Claude Lorrain, Scaenographiae Solis (Paris, 2009), and Sergei Daniel and Natalia Serebriannaya, Claude Lorrain, Painter of Light (Bournemouth, 1995).
(6) See Marcel Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings (Berkeley, 1968), and Richard Rand et al., Claude Lorrain, the Painter as Draftsman: Drawings from the British Museum (New Haven, 2006).
(7) See Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain, Liber veritatis (London, 1978).
(8) Roger E. Fry, “Claude,” Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs vol. 11, no. 53 (August, 1907), 297. The scale suggested by the two buildings represented at the base of the promontory seems to preclude the greater height of the promontory from being intended as a representation of architecture, although one face does appear to have the rectangular indication of a window. Perhaps Claude was uncertain how he wanted this part of the composition to develop. A similar sharp-faced promontory with buildings at its base is found in Claude’s Landscape with Moses and the Burning Bush of 1664, painted one year later than the Dumbarton Oaks drawing. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 381-384, fig. 262. The Liber Veritatis drawing that records this painting is no. 161 (British Museum, London, 1957,1214.167. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 926.
(9) Similar depictions of a ruined, presumably ancient building and a church with both a dome on a drum and a tower are found in an undated drawing, Landscape Composition with a Church by a Stream, and a Ruined Building on a Hill at Right, attributed to Claude (British Museum, London, Oo,6.49). Arthur Mayger Hind, Catalogue of the Drawings of Claude Lorrain in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London, 1926), 316. A similar colonnaded ruin, depicted in more detail, is also found in the 1663 painting, Landscape with Mercury and Battus. See note 10.
(10) Roethlisberger (Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 358) suggests that the two small figures are herdsmen and may be intended as representations of Mercury and Battus, the protagonists in Ovid’s narrative in the second book of the Metamorphoses, 680-697. Mercury had driven off and hidden Apollo’s cattle and bribed Battus to remain silent. However, as there are no cattle in the Dumbarton Oaks drawing, this interpretation is problematic. A standing Apollo and a seated Battus are found, however, in Claude’s 1663 painting, Landscape with Mercury and Battus, in the Dukes of Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 377-379, fig. 261. Liber Veritatis 159 (British Museum, 1857,1214.165) records the painting. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 895.
(11) Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 335, and Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 358.
(12) British Museum, London, 1957,1214.158. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 849. The drawing records the painting, Apollo and Mercury, dated 1660, Wallace Collection, London, P114. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 356-359, fig. 250.
(13) This interpretation is given in Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 356. In Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 335, Roethlisberger mistakenly says that the left side (rather than the right) is taken from Liber Veritatis 152 and that the right side comes from Liber Veritatis 157 (rather than 159). (For Liber Veritatis 157 see British Museum, London, 1957,1214.26 and Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 157. The drawing records the painting, Landscape with Peasants Returning with their Herds, ca. 1637, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 52.9.125). Roethlisberger’s designations of left for right and 157 for 159 in the Drawings publication were likely unintentional mistakes. For Liber Veritatis 159, see note 10.
(14) British Museum, London, 1957,1214.160. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 856. The drawing records the painting, Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, dated 1661, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, no. 1235. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 361-365, fig. 257.
(15) These include: Landscape with an Imaginary View of Tivoli, 1642, The Courtauld Gallery, London, P.1978.PG.64; Pastoral Landscape, 1644, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble, MG152; Landscape with Argus Guarding Io, ca. 1645, the Earl of Leicester’s Collection, Holkham; Pastoral Landscape, 1645, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, 53.6; and Mill on the Tiber, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, 32-78. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 209-210, fig. 138; 225-227, fig. 152; 239-241, fig. 165; 252-253, fig. 174; and 302-304, fig. 212. Claude’s drawings after these paintings in the Liber Veritatis (British Museum, London) are, in order: L.V. 67, 79, 86, 93, and 123. These drawings are accessioned under 1957,1214 with the following numbers (in order): 73, 85, 92, 99, and 129. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 519, 553, 565, 596, and 693.
(16) See note 12.
(17) No. 31-57. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 405-406, fig. 279. The related Liber Veritatis drawing is no. 172. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 974.
(18) British Museum, London, Oo,6.131. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 840. This drawing is less finished than the Dumbarton Oaks drawing.
(19) Walter Friedländer, Claude Lorrain (Berlin, 1921), 190-191.