The artwork that you will be looking at today dates from 1639 to 1655. Note that the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 is marked on the timeline as a reference point.
This lesson’s geographic focus is France. It’s important to point out that during the 17th century, France was becoming a very major political power, culminating with the reign of Louis the XIV, the Sun King.
The influence of classical Italian art is evident in paintings by French Baroque landscape painters such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Both Lorrain and Poussin incorporated ancient ruins and references to classical antiquity into their paintings.
2a. Claude Lorrain
Lorrain had an interest in the effects of natural phenomena of atmospheric conditions, including weather, and included them in his paintings. However, he also made preparatory sketches that observed the effects of sunlight, which he reproduced in his paintings. In the painting below, you can see these effects that suggest a hazy glow or summer afternoon, as well as the excellent execution of atmospheric perspective and how the middle ground fades into the almost transparent hills on the horizon. The bridge serves to connect the foreground with the middle ground.
Notice how the emphasis here is clearly on the landscape. There’s no discernible story that seems to be unfolding. The figures within seem to function only as some human interest amidst the beauty of the French countryside.
2b. Nicholas Poussin
Nicholas Poussin, a contemporary of Lorrain, was another well-known and respected landscape painter. Whereas Lorrain emphasized the landscape almost exclusively, Poussin told a story set within the landscape.
The “Burial of Phocion” tells a story of an Athenian general named Phocion who was falsely accused of treason and put to death. This painting depicts Phocion being carried to his burial location by two bearers, away from the classical city in the middle ground. The trail of the two bearers winds its way through the landscape, past farmers or shepherds and other individuals that casually go about their business.
Although based on a story, this event isn’t depicted in any particular period of time. The city appears to be a collection of classical structures and local buildings, rather than a specific place. It’s a timeless portrayal of a classic story.
The classical themes and Renaissance artists were clearly influential on the art of Poussin. '“Et in Arcadia Ego,” which roughly translates to “Even in Arcadia, I am present,” shows the influence of artists such as Raphael in the classical pose and structure of the figures. The landscape is thought to be an idyllic version of Arcadia in Greece. Three men, probably shepherds, are huddled around a tomb reading an inscription, which is believed to be making a reference to the person who was inside who once enjoyed this land as the men do now. The figure of the woman, thought to represent death or perhaps a personification of the actual inscription, reminds the men that death is inevitable.
This painting exemplifies Poussin’s style, his interest in Grand Manner subjects, as well as his emphasis of design over color, although it’s important to note that color was still important to Poussin. He had, after all, been significantly influenced by the works of artists such as Raphael and Titian—who’s known for his use of color--during his own travels to Italy. Rather, in an overall hierarchy for Poussin, color was second to design.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ian McConnell.
A group of conservative French artists in the 17th century who believed drawing was more important than color.
Believed that color, not drawing, was superior due to its being more true to nature.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the highest category of painting, equivalent to history painting. It made stylistic references to classical Greece and the Renaissance.