Where? Gallery 6 of the Legion of Honor Museum
When? About 1642-1644
Commissioned by? Unknown
What do you see? An idyllic view of the landscape around the Italian town Tivoli. In the center of the painting is the outline of Tivoli on top of a hill. The city can be entered via the bridge in the middle. The city is full of big houses and ancient ruins. On top of the hill in the foreground is the ruin of the Temple of Vesta, which was built in the first century BC. Lorrain paints the city during sunset, causing some beautiful light effects. The sky is somewhat hazy and orange, the edges of the clouds are illuminated, and the landscape is largely in the shadow. In the foreground, Lorrain paints the Aniene River, including a small waterfall. The river is shallow and allows the group of cows and goats to cross the river to have a drink in a safe place. The three young men and the dog at the back of the herd follow suit. They are surrounded by some very large trees.
Backstory: Compared to earlier landscape painters, the 17th-century landscape painters in Italy were interested in depicting the grandeur and the emotion that the landscape evoked. To convey these elements, they did not create completely realistic views but played around with the effects of light to create a more dramatic view. Tivoli and its countryside was a particularly popular spot for 17th-century painters in Rome. The beautiful hills, river, and numerous ancient and medieval ruins and buildings were an inspiring sight. As a landscape painter, Claude Lorrain visited this area frequently. His paintings not only provided idyllic scenes but also made some local clients remember of Rome’s magnificent past.
Why Tivoli: The town of Tivoli is about 30 kilometers East of Rome next to the Aniene River. It is located in a hilly area from where Rome can be seen when visibility is good. Tivoli and the area around it were full of ancient and medieval ruins. Tivoli is also the home of the beautiful Villa d’Este, famous for its Renaissance-style garden and many fountains. Lorrain loved the landscape of Tivoli and painted more than 30 works of it. Among them is his Imaginary View of Tivoli in the Courtauld Institute of Art and Ideal View of Tivoli in the New Orleans Museum of Art. He also created several works on the countryside around Rome as seen from Tivoli. Among them is A View of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli, Evening which is part of the British Royal Collection and is on display in Buckingham Palace.
Who is Lorrain? Claude Lorrain (birthname Claude Gellée) was born around 1600 in Chamagne in the Northeast of modern-day France. At the end of his teenage years, he moved to Italy where he would stay for the rest of his life until his death in 1682 in Rome. He was a draughtsman, etcher, and painter and specialized in landscape paintings. Lorrain was particularly fond of including the effects of the sun into his works. He liked the effects that the sunrise and sunset have on the sky and the surrounding landscape. Lorrain was not a Realist painter and idealized his landscapes by adding or removing certain elements that he observed. Sometimes, he combined his landscapes with some mythological or historical elements. Lorrain was a successful artist during his life and received plenty of commissions, including several from the Pope. An example of another landscape by Lorrain is the View of La Crescenza in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fun fact: Claude Lorrain led a somewhat solitary life. He never married, though he did adopt a daughter that he possibly got with one of his servants. While he did have some friends and family, he did not interact much with the other landscape artists that were active in Rome. However, he did have a good relationship with one other famous French landscape painter, Nicolas Poussin, who also lived in Rome. He kept a book with drawings of all his 195 paintings. He created this book to prevent other artists to sell fake landscape paintings under Lorrain’s name. The book – Liber Veritatis – has survived, and the original is in possession of the British Museum of Art.