by Cyndi Trang
April 2013Untitled

Claude Lorrain was one of the most prosperous and prominent painters during the 17th century. Over 250 paintings, 1300 drawings and 44 etchings are attributed to him and he is hailed as the “greatest draughtsman of his time,” after Rembrandt and Rubens (Kitson, Rothlisberger 36). Patrons of this Frenchman’s landscape paintings span all over Europe and include eminent people like Pope Urban VIII and King Phillip IV of Spain (Rand 26). His work has inspired many people, including Britain’s J.M.W. Turner and John Constable and America’s Thomas Cole (Kitson). Most of his artwork portrays vast, idyllic landscapes and tranquil pastoral scenes (Sonnabend et al. 16). So what was it about this congenial man’s ideal landscape paintings that made them such a success? Part of the answer lies in exploring the “ideal” components of his artwork. Lorrain’s 1645-1646 oil painting The Judgment of Paris depicts the atmospheric perspective and naturalistic style that made his ideal classical landscape paintings so successful.

The Judgment of Paris (44’ 3/16” x 58’ 7/8”) was originally painted for the French ambassador in Rome, Francois de Val, the marquis de Fontenay-Marouil, but now resides in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (Rand 156). In the painting are five people dressed in ancient Roman garb engaged in a conversation, with one peacock and eight lazy sheep around them in a grassy, mountainous setting. The people from left to right are: the poor, young shepherd Paris who sits on a boulder, the winged, child-like Cupid who stands with an arrow in his hands, the nude Venus who stands with her hands modestly placed over her nudity, the fully clothed Juno who stands next to her peacock, and the half nude Minerva who sits on a boulder and touches her left foot (“The Collection…”). The painting depicts Paris pointing to Venus, whom he chooses as the most beautiful out of the three goddesses. In exchange for his choice, Venus promises to give him the fairest woman alive, Helen of Troy. The plot, symbols, and gestures in this painting can be seen in previous artworks of the same title by Rubens, Cranach the Elder, and many others (Damisch 174). For example, Lorrain’s version is very similar to Rubens’ 1638 version in the following ways: all five characters are drawn standing in the same order with their limbs posed in a similar fashion, the scenery is outdoors on a mountain with a background that includes water features, and the moment in the story is the same in which Paris contemplates the offers of the three goddesses. However, the main difference in Lorrain’s version and what makes his so interesting is the focus on landscape, the atmospheric perspective, and the naturalistic style.

Before the 17th century, landscape paintings were unpopular with the masses and deemed “second-class” (Rand 22). Although Lorrain’s landscape paintings are not entirely landscapes and could be categorized as mythical or biblical paintings, his art nevertheless elevated landscape artwork. The Judgment of Paris’s main focus is the landscape and is an excellent example of Lorrain’s brilliance with landscape painting. However, the general layout of the painting must first be defined. The landscape is divided into three sections and covers a vast majority of the painting. In the foreground there is a patch of land bordered on the left by a mountain and waterfall and on the right by a tree. In the middle ground is a tall, green tree that is vertically in the center of the painting and is 2/3 the height of the painting. In the background is an open landscape that depicts a river, with short, white brush strokes throughout, indicating a frothing, active current. Beyond the river are smaller mountains interspersed with small, blurry green shapes representing trees. There is a continuous patch of rich, light blue sky, which spans across the top quarter of the painting, with white puffs of clouds interspersed. The main subjects of the title are in the left lower corner and take up only a quarter of the space. Other artists may have painted landscapes before, but Lorrain is the main artist who gave the ideal classical landscape “ethereality and nobility” (Rand 22).

The “ethereality” and idealism of the painting come from its atmospheric perspective and soft, rich colors. Atmospheric perspective is the portrayal of blurred objects to create the illusion of depth and distance (Kleiner 101). The Judgment of Paris exhibits this technique, which is not new to art, but is perfected in Lorrain’s paintings. The objects in the painting decrease in size and grow blurrier as they recede from the foreground, which reflects how distance appears in reality. By painting the trees, mountains, and river this way, the painting appears to have depth and can continue beyond the human vision. The humans and animals in the painting are also proportionately portrayed in relation to the mountainous setting, which reflects “correct” proportions to reality. The eternal expanse of the clear blue sky further contributes to the illusion of space. This vastness adds to the ethereal and timeless quality of the idealistic painting.

Lorrain had a great appreciation for color and the naturalistic world. Art historian Joachim von Sandrart states that Lorrain would lie “in the fields before the break of day and until night in order to learn to represent very exactly the red morning-sky, sunrise and sunset and the evening hours…[then] he immediately prepared his colours accordingly, returned home and applied them to the work he had in mind” (48). This explains how dedicated Lorrain is to the most naturalistic use of color. Lorrain also knew the theory behind colors and in his later paintings used blue for divinity and serenity, yellow for splendor, green for hope, and white for purity (Rothlisberger 26). The use of such rich colors creates a warm tone of serenity and idealism in The Judgment of Paris. The soft variants of brown of the mountain and the soft, glowing light yellow and pink radiating from the top right side of the painting from the invisible sun create a peaceful effect on the landscape. The soft color effect is additionally shown surrounding each tree. For example, the tree in the center shows soft outlines of lighter shades of green and gaps of yellow because this is where there are less or no leaves so the light could filter through. The overall effect of the color creates an expansive tranquil scene that enhances the ideal landscape.

The Judgment of Paris’s realistic representation of the people and nature also makes it an ideal classical landscape. The mythical figures all have the ideal human body proportions and their limbs are all placed in a proper order that adds cohesion to the painting. In fact, their body proportions are similar to Michelangelo’s artistic figures. The scenery is also natural and ideal. To the left and further behind the center tree is a beautiful waterfall which has patches of white color painted on with thicker, coarser strokes to show the different frequencies at which the water flows down. The naturalism of the cloths in the painting also adds to the ideal look because the cloths have the shape and texture that is suited to their owners’ personalities. For example, Venus has a transparent, white, mesh cloth with a brilliant blue lining wrapped precariously around her. The transparency suits a goddess of love who is known for vainly exhibiting her beauty. By depicting naturalism, Lorrain’s work exemplifies the ideal classical landscape.

Although some aspects of Lorrain’s landscape paintings pay homage to past traditions from Titian, Campagnola, Annibale Carracci, and Domenichino, his landscape paintings are still unique (Whitfield 83). Art historian, Pamela Askew gives high praises to Lorrain’s landscape paintings by stating they depict “a world of high and open skies and consistently traversable distances, whose altitudes, depths, and imperceptibility modulated light” give “new meaning to life” (9). This just shows the monumental effect his idealistic landscape had on the art world, and The Judgment of Paris is a great example of his idealist techniques.

Works Cited

Askew, Pamela, ed. Introduction. Claude Lorrain 1600-1682: A Symposium. Studies in the History of Art 14. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1984. 9-11. Print.

“The Collection: National Gallery of Art.” National Gallery of Art. 2012. Web. 29 Oct. 2012.

Damisch, Hubert. The Judgment of Paris. Trans. John Goodman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print.

Kitson, Michael. “Claude Lorrain.” Oxford Art Online. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Rand, Richard. Claude Lorrain – The Painter as Draftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

Rothlisberger, Marcel. Introduction. Claude Lorrain: the Paintings. Ed. Rothlisberger. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961. 3-43. Print.

Sandrart, Joachim von. “The Life of Claude.” Claude Lorrain: the Paintings. Ed. Marcel Rothlisberger. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961. 47-52. Print.

Sonnabend, Martin, Jon Whiteley, and Christian Rumelin. Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Lanscape. Oxford: The Ahsomlean Museum, 2011. Print.

Whitfield, Clovis. “Claude and a Bolognese Revival.” Claude Lorrain 1600-1682: A Symposium. Studies in the History of Art 14. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1984. 83-91. Print.

Formal Analysis of The Judgment of Paris

The Judgment of Paris is a 1645-1646, two-dimensional oil painting on canvas by Claude Lorrain. It currently hangs in gallery 36 on the west main floor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The painting is 44 3/16 x 58 7/8 inches and is horizontal format. In the painting, there are five people with one peacock and eight sheep around them in a grassy, mountainous setting. Two ladies stand, one lady sits, one man sits, and one winged male child stands. Although there are spiderlike lines on the painting, most likely due to age, the painting still exquisitely expresses Lorrain’s devotion to naturalism, which is the use of art forms to express nature as it naturally is. Lorrain’s painting expresses naturalism through perspective and color.

This landscape painting appears vast and uncluttered due to spacing and perspective. In the foreground there is a patch of land that is bordered on the left by a mountain and waterfall and on the right by a tree. In the middle ground is a tall, green tree that is vertically in the center of the painting and is 2/3 the height of the painting. In the background is an open landscape that depicts a river, with smooth, white brush strokes throughout, indicating a frothing active current. Beyond the river are smaller mountains interspersed with small, blurry, green shapes representing trees. There is a continuous patch of light blue sky, which spans across the top quarter of the painting, with white puffs of clouds interspersed. The distinct spaces for the scenes and their distance from one another create a vast setting that is uncluttered.

Perspective further contributes to this wide open look. The objects in the painting decrease in size and grow blurrier as they recede from the foreground, which reflects how distance appears in reality. By painting the trees, mountains, and river this way, the painting appears to have depth and can continue beyond the human vision. The humans and animals in the painting are also proportionately portrayed in relation to the mountainous setting, which reflects “correct” proportions and stays true to naturalism.

Another form that expresses the artist’s close attention to naturalism is the use of color and shadows to depict the scenery and people. By studying the shadows, the direction of the sun becomes evident. The blue cloaked lady and the sitting man’s right foot cast shadows that point to the left lower corner; thus, the sun must be in the right upper side of the painting. Moreover, that is the direction of the sun because a soft, glowing light yellow and pink radiates from that direction. The soft color effect is further shown surrounding each tree. For example, the tree in the center shows soft outlines of lighter shades of green and gaps of yellow because this is where there are less or no leaves so the light could filter through. Thus, portraying how trees really look in sunlight.

On the other hand, darker colors are also used to accentuate the scene and remain true to naturalism. The sheep and people stand on a long patch of grass whose overall appearance is dark black, brown, and green because it is within shadows cast by the surrounding land features. Dark colors are also used to depict different features of the mountains. For example, the man sits on a boulder that is connected to a mountain on the left side of the painting. The mountain seems to have a cave inside because of the darker shades of brown painted on the center of it. The brown gets increasingly darker, indicating the presence of a hollow groove. To the left and further behind the center tree is a waterfall that has patches of white color painted on with thicker, coarser strokes to show the different frequencies at which water flows down.

Although the main focus of the painting revolves around the five people in the left lower portion of the painting, the setting around them is also crucial. The setting is important because it creates a mood that can affect the viewer’s opinion of the artwork. Due to Lorrain’s use of colors and perspective to portray naturalism, the painting appears open and tranquil. Contrarily, what the figures actually portray in the painting is for another essay.

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