Domenichino in Landscape and in the Cathedral of Naples
At the same time that Domenichino was extending his theoretical knowledge of the harmonies of musical sounds and pictorial colors, he was expanding the landscape component of the mythical and Biblical subjects whose pictorial depiction by Raphael had been memorably extended by Titian and Veronese in Venice and by Annibale Carracci in Bologna and Rome. Titian and Veronese had extended Raphael’s treatment of such subjects in paintings inspired by epic poetry that Ariosto and Tasso had written during the sixteenth century. Annibale’s fresco of Rinaldo and Armida for the Farnese palace at the time of Domenichino’s arrival in Rome in 1602 was one of the first paintings inspired by Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered in the seventeenth century (Spear, p. 122, cat. 68).
Domenichino was to expand the above pictorial tradition in ways that were to influence not only Nicholas Poussin but Claude Lorrain. Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) was another aspiring painter from France who arrived in Rome in the 1620s. He too would have been quickly acquainted with Domenichino’s Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia frescoed on the walls of San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church for French emigres in Rome. But Claude was himself most strongly drawn to those landscapes in which Domenichino’s ostensible subjects from ancient myth, the Bible, or epic poetry were increasingly subordinated to the beauty and expanse of the landscape itself.
Domenichino’s expanding appropriation of landscape subjects from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered is seen in two paintings at the Louvre in Paris in which he extended the example of Annibale. His Rinaldo and Armida from 1620-21 uses the landscape much as Poussin was to do, as a geometrical frame for a carefully choreographed ensemble of human figures in the foreground. His Landscape with Erminia and the Shepherds from 1623-25 more directly anticipates Claude, the landscape itself becoming the primary subject within which the figural element is a more anecdotal feature. The latter painting soon became known as one of Domenichino’s many “landscape and” paintings. Such paintings were extremely popular, as were the landscapes of Claude Lorrain, among English collectors at the time Samuel Rogers was assembling his collection in the early 19th century.
All three Domenichino landscapes that Melville would have seen during his two visits to Rogers’s private gallery in December 1849 were of the “landscape and” variety. In the catalogue of that collection in the 1844 edition of Hazlitt’s Criticisms on Art, they were listed as Landscapes with “Flaying of Marsayas,” with “The Bird Catchers,” and with “Tobias and the Fish” (Appendix IX, nos. 18, 19, 20). A version of the latter painting at the National Gallery when Melville visited in 1849 (fig. 5) is a striking example of Domenichino’s expanded landscape style—and a direct anticipation of Claude Lorrain’s mature landscape practice.