Despite my indecisiveness about whether or not to continue with a written counterpart for my Ruins Project, I have decided to write a brief post looking at some of the artwork created by the Master artist, Claude Lorrain.
Claude is without any doubt, one of the greatest painters of the landscape that has ever lived; although in 17th century Italy landscape painting was not a subject deemed classical enough to be classed as a true work of art and with that in mind, Claude painted figures and narratives into his beautiful scenery; usually mythical or religious figures that would feed the hunger both of patrons and the public. However, it is clearly evident from his sketchbooks and the quality of the scenery in his finished works that his focus was mainly centred around the landscape.
One good way to describe Claude Lorrain is as the painter of the idealised landscape providing the setting for classical subject narratives. The creator of mythical and religious scenes that the viewer can engage with as though present in the story, a Baroque equivalent of the cinema.
I have handpicked my favourite artworks by Claude Lorrain that are relevant to the theme of Ruins and in no particular order, here they are:
Starting as I intend to continue, here is an astonishing example of the man’s aptitude with a paintbrush. Everything about this work is mind-blowing.
Focusing mainly on the ruins here from my point, Claude has captured the elegance and power that these ancient Roman monuments once held; still standing stubbornly many years after the Empire has fallen. The realism of the ruins is second to none, from the hairline cracks and fallen pieces to the mossy growth forming in places after so long without care.
Admittedly Claude did have a great advantage, the stunning landscapes he was familiar with were full of inspirational vistas and ruined buildings; even so, it’s the way that he has transcribed them that make his work so effective, using the ruins and landscape to enhance the story of the narrative; they are no mere backdrop to a mythical scene, they hold a strong story of their own, a history that seemingly goes back even further than the scene being portrayed by the figures.
Here is a painting that shows one of the most famous sites in the world and certainly in Europe, however it is very different to how anyone living today would be able to recall it. In the 17th century for instance, notice the lack of bustling crowds and tourists eager to see the world through a camera lens rather than with their own eyes.
There’s no particular story being told by the figures in this piece of work, the casual day to day scene bringing it more in line with a traditional landscape painting as we know them like those produced by the likes of JMW Turner and John Constable; both of whom were heavily influenced by Claude Lorrain.
Again, the detail and skill that has gone into the ruins and foliage here is incredible, this is as close to being there beside Claude at the time he was seeing it as one could possibly get. Another interesting factor about Claude’s preference for painting the landscape is the difference between how much detail has gone into the landscape in comparison to the figures; it stands out more in this piece than in most.
This piece was the last painting created by Claude Lorrain and although a beautifully executed piece of work, it’s not my favourite and I don’t think of it as the end product of such an amazing life spent telling stories visually and capturing the essence of the natural world; for me it doesn’t signify the culmination of such a skillful and creative career.
Nevertheless, it is still a great painting, the narrative here is taken from Virgil’s Aenid, the scene shown is where Ascanius shoots Sylvia’s pet stag and thus provokes a war against Latium.
The atmosphere of this piece seems a lot darker than the last two; but similarly there are some beautifully decaying ruins on display, nestling the figures into the scene comfortably and providing a good sense of scale at the same time.
Here are some of Claude Lorrain’s ink sketches and true to their nature, they are sketchy, captured with a keen eye and produced with speed I would imagine. As noted earlier in this post, you can see from Lorrain’s sketches that the landscape truly was the pivotal point of his artwork. Illustrative and informative, these drawings laid the foundations for later paintings and inspiration and are also a fine example for artists today to learn from when sketching the landscape.
The more I look at Claude Lorrain’s work the more inspired I feel and I really do like the way he works; one key difference between our focal points though is that I’m all for the story as well as the landscape, the landscape doesn’t usually tend to hold first priority with my own work. However, to be able to set a narrative told through figures and have them placed in such elegantly painted landscapes is certainly a great goal to aim for and one which I endeavour to strive towards with every piece of work.
It also helps me to look at Claude’s work for my Ruins project as my scene is literally just that, ruins set in a landscape inspired by Arthurian legend.
Well that’s all for this post, not an in depth review of Claude Lorrain but a nice brief overview and if you have enjoyed the artwork you have seen here, he is definitely an artist worth looking into in more detail, there is a huge body of work available to see on the internet and plenty of books that showcase this exceptional artist.
I thank you for reading this post, please feel free to leave any comments and until next time, take care!