Calude Lorrain – Cleopatra Disembarking At Tarsus

Claude’s distinctive qualities, mentioned in comparing him with Poussin, are all embodied in this picture. The figures are unusually animated for a Claude, but bear less relation to the contours of the landscape than in the Poussin. He considered them of so little importance that he often left them to be inserted by some assistant. All through the picture, there is less detachment of individual parts, less rhythmic recurrence of similar contours, more reliance on a soft, pervasive glow of sunlight to unify the picture. This is especially true as we approach the source of the light, which is not visible in the Poussin. Nearby the forms are silhouetted, but as they recede their outlines melt together in the sunset haze. There is more depth, more spacious grandeur, and less clear-cut compactness. But the softening effects of atmosphere are not carried to anything like the extreme of Turner or Monet.

The design is still basically one of definite lines and planes, over which the sunset plays. It brings out the forms of architecture with distinct shadows, and those of the boats and persons with delicate outlines of gold. As in Carpaccio’s harbor-view, which it strongly resembles, the scene is knit together by long diagonals—the slanting yard-arms on the left, and on the right converging perspective lines. It is further knit by tall vertical masts and walls, and by the short curves of ship-hulls, trees and human figures. There is less pageantry of costumes than in Carpaccio, but his basic form survives in the expanse of quiet water bordered by towering classical buildings, and peopled with leisurely, dignified groups in classical attire. It survives, too, in the skill with which space is punctuated, marked off at rhythmic intervals by series of similar objects, so that every region between here and the horizon is felt as a different part of space. The lack of such marking off makes the view from a ship at sea, with nothing but water in all directions, seem comparatively small and monotonous. Here a series of boats leads us step by step to the sunset on the left, while on the right we are similarly led by the row of houses and the scattered groups of people. A relatively small area, thus organized, can be made to seem vast, unified and interesting. The practical arts of formal gardening and landscape architecture, at Versailles, for example, owe much to the principles of space composition worked out by landscape painters.