Landscape with Aeneas at Delos by Claude Lorrain

Landscape with Aeneas at Delos by Claude Lorrain (1672)

The featured artist in today’s My Daily Art Display is the French landscape painter of the Baroque era, Claude Lorrain.  The artist was born around 1604 in the town of Chamagne in the province of Lorraine, which at that time was an independent Duchy.  His actual name was Claude Gellée but was better known by the province in which he was born.  He was one of five children who came from a poor family and became an orphan when he was twelve years of age.  After the death of his parents he went to Freiburg to live with his elder brother Jean who was a woodcarver.

In his teens he travelled to Rome and Naples where he became an apprentice to the German Baroque landscape painter Goffredo Wals.  In his early twenties he moved to Rome and became a student of Agostino Tassi, the Italian landscape artist. Whilst in Rome he was commissioned by Cardinal Bentivoglio to produce two landscape paintings.  His works received great acclaim, which earned him patronage from Pope Urban VIII. Over the next ten years he became more and more successful and his fame as a landscape and seascape painter blossomed.  It was around this time that he became friends with the French artist Nicolas Poussin and together they would travel into the Italian countryside sketching the beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.

Claude Lorrain was, in the main, a landscape artist and he would often commission other artists to add figures into his paintings.  He often commented to his patrons that he was giving them an exquisite landscape and the figures in the painting were gratis !   Lorrain was concerned that some of his work may be copied and passed off as his and he wanted to ensure also he didn’t want to duplicate his work.  To circumvent these problems he decided to make tinted outline drawings of all his pictures he had sent to different countries.  He collated these in six paper books and on the back of each drawing he wrote the name of the purchaser.   These six volumes he named  Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth).  Many of his works were engraved and published and have always been popular with aspiring landscape artists.  Claude Lorrain although brought up in a poverty-stricken background, died a rich man in Rome in 1682.

Today’s painting, which was included in his Liber Veritatis and completed in 1672, is entitled Landscape with Aeneas at Delos.  During his last ten years, Lorrain painted six stories of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid, which told of the legendary origins of Rome.   He was also very interested in Ovid’s  Metamorphoses  which also recounted the adventures of Aeneas.  In Book III, Ovid tells how Aeneas fled from the burning Troy:

“..  taking with him sacred images of the gods, his father Anchises (the bearded man in blue) and his son Ascanius (the child on the right) Aeneas (in short red cloak) set sail and reached with his friends the city of Apollo [Delos].   Anius [in white on the left], who ruled over men as king and served the sun god as his priest, received him in the temple and his home. He showed his city, the new-erected shrines and the two sacred trees [olive and palm] to which Latona had once clung when she gave birth to her children [Diana and Apollo]….”

This type of painting genre encompassing classical and biblical tales was very popular in the 17th century and often these stories were the motivational foundation for Grand History paintings.  Although the painting is based on a classical story, Lorrain’s emphasis is on the natural surroundings and the panoramic view of the seaport.  Even though the story plays a fundamental part in the work of art, the figures, as far as Lorrain was concerned were of less importance.  We look down on this setting.  We see a woman and child crossing a bridge over a stream.  Sheep graze unhindered under the shade of two tall trees.   Further into the picture we see a semi-enclosed harbour with its many boats.  In the far distance we can just make out the distant hills.  There is much to see in the painting and it is an invitation from Lorrain for us to take in all that is going on.  It is a very airy scene and is enhanced by the cool blueness of the sky with the puffy white clouds which almost fills the upper half of the painting.  There is a definite contrast in the colours Lorrain used in this painting.  By using light whites and blues in the background and darker browns and greens in the foreground the artist has created an impression of spatial depth.  There is also a sense of stability in this painting.  The vertical elongation brought on by the tall trees and the columns of the building is balanced by the horizontal lines of the land and sea

Do you like the painting?  The great English landscape artist John Constable was very impressed with the artist and of Lorrain and his landscape paintings, he commented:

” …he is the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw”, and declared that in Claude’s landscape “all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart…”