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The Enchanted Castle

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CAT 128. François Vivares and William Woollett after Claude Lorrain. The Enchanted Castle. London: Susa Vivares, March 12, 1782. Melville Chapin Collection.

With this print of The Enchanted Castle we enter the enchanted realm of Claude Lorrain’s art, of English printmaking, and of Melville’s poetic imagination. This 1782 folio engraving by François Vivares and William Woollett reproduced, in reverse, Claude’s 1664 painting known as Landscape with Psyche and the Palace of Amor. Inspired by the story of Psyche and Amor in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, the sixty-four-year old painter took his art into a deeper psychological realm than he had previously explored, conveying a humanity and longing that have made this perhaps his best-known and best-loved painting. Claude was the first painter to have depicted this story by picturing Psyche meditating alone in a landscape outside the castle; most other painters had chosen the indoor moment in which the oil drips from Psyche’s candle, causing Amor to banish her for looking at him (Roethlisberger, Paintings, LV 162). 

Melville as a collector was attuned to the importance of both Vivares and Woollett in the history of English engraving. In the copy of The Works of Eminent Masters that he acquired in 1871 (Sealts no. 564) he marked an entire paragraph on Vivares and Woollett in the essay on “Copper-Plate Engraving”: “Vivares must be considered the founder of the English school of landscape engraving. . . . He was followed by Woollett in the same department, whose works were models in beauty of execution and of style for landscape. Like Vivares, he carried his plates a considerable way with the point, and gave them the necessary depth with the graver, touching them up in the more delicate parts with the dry point. His works have all the delicacy and clearness of the French masters, with all the spirit and taste of Vivares” (Works, 1:142; fig. 1 below). 

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Figure 1. Melville’s marginal marks alongside passage on Vivares and Woollett in his copy of The Works of Eminent Masters, London, 1854, 1:142. Houghton Library, Harvard University (Sealts no. 564).

François Vivares (1709-1780) was born in France and raised in Geneva before arriving in London at age eighteen. For the last thirty years of his life he resided in the building on Great Newport Street at which he created more than 150 prints after European Old Masters and selected English painters through which he founded the English school of landscape engraving. His engravings after Claude Lorrain, especially Morning, Evening, A View of Naples, and The Enchanted Castle, were considered to be his masterpieces (see our CAT 127, fig. 1, for his View of Naples). The Enchanted Castle was unfinished when Vivares died in 1780, so it was completed by William Woollett, who had collaborated with him on this and other prints. Vivares was prolific in children as well as prints, having produced 31 children with three wives. The  Susa Vivares who published Woollett’s completed version of The Enchanted Castle from 13 Great Newport Street in 1782 had been the printmaker’s third wife (“Vivares, François”).

Georges Duplessis, Melville’s French authority on engraving, considered Woollett’s engravings after Claude to be his finest works, Woollett being “irresistibly attracted by the grand and masterly disposition of the forms, the deep infinite horizons, and the beautiful scenery of the landscapes.” Similarly, “Claude was never better understood than by Woollett. . . . The beautiful gradations and fine proportions of his plates are unsurpassed; no predecessor obtained such varied results by the aid of the graver alone. The distant horizons, lit up by the last ray from the setting sun, are accurately designed, and are perfectly distinct, though so far away.” Vivares, Duplessis declared, “rendered” landscapes by Claude “with about as much skill as Woollett.” Like Claude himself, he “thoroughly understood the laws of light and shadow.” His “plastic style of work” enabled him to “transmit” Claude’s “judiciously distributed light into copper with remarkable accuracy” (191-92). 

During Melville’s lifetime, the engraving of The Enchanted Castle on copper by Vivares and Woollett was more widely known than Claude’s oil painting on canvas (fig. 1), which remained in a series of private collections until London’s National Gallery acquired it in 1981.

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Figure 2. Claude Lorrain. Landscape with Psyche outside the Palace of Cupid (“The Enchanted Castle”), oil on canvas, 1664. National Gallery London.

Woollett, upon completing the engraving Vivares had begun, entitled their print The Enchanted Castle. That name soon attached itself to the painting itself, in part through the influence of the “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats, written in 1819 after Keats saw the original painting he called “Claude’s Enchanted Castle” in a temporary exhibition at the British Institution. From that time on, Keats’s “Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” would make Claude’s enchanted landscape a part of English literary, as well as art, history (see Levey, 819-20).

Keats also wrote the less-known conversational poem entitled “A Reminiscence of Claude’s Enchanted Castle.” Addressed to John Hamilton Reynolds, this poem tries to shake off a night of disturbing, “disjointed” visions with more pleasing images, such as “flowers bursting out with lusty pride” and “some Titian colors touched into real life.” But for Keats the incomparable healing vision is this:

    You know the Enchanted Castle,--it doth stand
Upon a rock, on the border of a Lake,
Nestled in trees, which all do seem to shake
From some old magic-like Urganda’s Sword.
O Phœbus! That I had thy sacred word
To show this Castle, in fair creaming wise,
Unto my friend, while sick and ill he lies!

After releasing a flood of sweet sights and sounds that stream though him from inside and outside Claude’s magical castle, Keats curbs all rhapsodic associations with these words:

    Oh, that our dreamings all, of sleep or wake,
Would all their colors from the sunset take:
From something of material sublime,
Rather than shadow our own soul’s day-time
In the dark void of night.

His poem inevitably returns to that day-time world in which “we jostle” without enchantment (Keats, “A Reminscence”).

In The Enchanted Castle Melville had both Claude and Woollett at their best. His copy of that print has been preserved in a frame of golden oak, decorated with ornamented designs on all four corners, that Melville himself appears to have provided. There is every reason to believe that this is one of the “silvery prints after Claude and Poussin” that Frank Mather saw hanging “on the walls” of Elizabeth Melville’s apartment in 1902 (Mather 555-56). “Silvery” is a word often applied to The Enchanted Castle itself, whether it be the painting or the print. Keats may have been the first to do so, in the “silver flash of light” that streams of the castle “as from the westward of a Summer’s night” (“Reminiscence”). Dullea, in Melville’s copy of his book on Claude, writes of the “silvery twilight scene” of the painting whose title he gives as Landscape: The Enchanted Castle, or Pysche. Dullea included Psyche in the title he assigned to the picture, but he also declared that the “incident by which the work is known might be omitted without any appreciable loss” (66, 71, 127).

Roethlisberger in his 1961 catalog of Claude’s paintings writes that “the silvery light” of the painting “expresses the magic character of a divine scene.” But for him, the “divinity” of the scene embraces more than the beauty of the silvery twilight; it also pervades the psyche of the female figure whom he restores to her proper place by restoring the title of the painting as Claude had originally conceived it: Landscape with Psyche and the Palace of Amor (LV 162, pp. 384-86). Roethlisberger emphasizes that Claude had painted this painting as a pendant to Landscape with Psyche Saved from Drowning Herself (1665, LV 167), initiating a period in which his human figures took on an entirely new psychological depth as meditations upon the universal truths embodied in ancient classical myths. 

For Diane Russell, writing one century after Dullea, the figure of Pysche in the foreground of Claude’s image carries the burden of the painting’s meaning in spite of  the charm of the enchanted castle above and behind her. The poignancy of situation is increased for viewers who know the story of how she has been cast out of the pleasure palace for violating the ban against looking at her lover Amor. But, as Russell points out, the viewer does not have to know that ancient story to feel the pictorial force of the figure Claude has painted. The image itself conveys “the vital melancholy of a person who sits ruminatively and alone in a vast and luxuriant nature, outside a stately building that is at once so near and far. The somber meditation of the figure is echoed and reinforced by the muted light and color of the landscape. The inward attitude of the figure is contrasted with the openness of the landscape, with the outwardness of appearance, a contrast of self and world” (“Claude’s Psyche Pendants,” 71).

The figure of Psyche in the foreground of Woollett’s engraving of The Enchanted Castle was important to Melville as the author of “After the Pleasure Party,” the ambitious narrative poem he published in Timoleon in 1891 with the subtitle “Lines Traced under an Image of Amor Threatening.” The female protagonist of the poem is Urania, an astronomer who in her passionate devotion to her profession has slighted the erotic dimension of life symbolized by Amor, a jealous god who in this poem makes her feel what she has lost. Writing in the decade of Freud with the deep intuitiveness of Claude, Melville in this poem expresses for every sensitive reader our fractured, or fractionated, inner selves. Urania asks “Nature,” with regard to human sexuality:

Why has thou made us but in halves—
Co-relatives. This make us slaves.
If these co-relatives never meet,
Self-hood itself seems incomplete.
And such the dicing of blind fate
Few matching halves here meet and mate.
What Cosmic jest or Anarch blunder
The human integer clove asunder
And shied the fractions through life’s gate?

Where does this poetic meditation take place in Melville’s poem? In a tree-clad “upland” that “falls” through “White marbles gleaming through green halls, / Terrace by terrace, down and down, / And meets the starlit Mediterranean Sea” (NN PP 259, 262).

Urania, “Rapt in her vigil” outside the castle,” invokes the stars to which she has devoted her life to “see me here!” In response, “their very selves do wane.” The only recognition she receives is this:

Light breaks—truth breaks! Silvered no more,
But chilled by dawn that brings the gale
Shivers yon bramble above the vale,
And disillusion opens all the shore. (NN PP 262)

Claude and Woollett had captured a beautiful “silvered” moment in the engraving that Melville had framed to hang on his wall, but dawn brings new challenges, “silvered no more,” in the poem he was writing at his desk.

Melville’s poem gives its own homage to the “magic casements” with which Keats had responded to Woollett’s engraving. But it responds with even more fervor to the “forlorn” element in Keats’s “perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” In this Melville is again showing a deep affinity with Hazlitt. Hazlitt was the first English critic to identify the solitary figure in Woollett’s Enchanted Castle with Psyche, whom he further associated with the Wordsworthian figure who is “Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance” (Levey 820). Hazlitt (1778-1830) was born a generation ahead of Keats (1795-1821) and was a leading critic of both English poetry and European painting during the young poet’s short lifetime. Hazlitt’s pervasiveness in English culture at the time was indicated by this rhyming couplet in Keats’s “Reminiscence of Claude’s Enchanted Castle”:

Old Socrates tying his cravat,
And Hazlitt playing with Miss Edgerton’s Cat.

Melville’s most explicit reference to the life of Keats came in the journal entry he wrote soon after arriving in Rome, when “after much trouble & sore travel without a guide managed to get to Protestant burial ground & Pyramid of Cestius under walls. Read Keats’ epitaph. Separated from the from the adjacent ground by trench.” Melville was alluding to the epitaph Shelley’s wrote for Keats citing the words Keats had chosen for his own tombstone: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” (NN J 106-07, 467; see also MBB 2.1).

Melville’s most explicit references to Hazlitt came in the marginalia he wrote in several of the books he acquired by Hazlitt. Many of his annotations pertained to European Old Master painters, and many of those referred to individual paintings by Claude Lorrain. In the essay on “Mr. Angerstein’s Collection” in the copy of Criticisms of Art Melville acquired in 1871, Melville placed a check mark next to the passage in which Hazlitt declared that the two Claudean seaport scenes in that collection, “famous as they are,” are not equal to The Enchanted Castle (MMO 263a.014).

To help himself find this passage when he returned to this book at a later time, Melville wrote  “Enchanted Castle / Claude” and the page number (MMO endpaper verso) on the back fly leaf of the book along with other references to Claude.

Melville also marked several passages pertaining to Claude in the copy of Hazlitt’s Table-Talk that he inherited after the death of his brother Gansevoort in 1846. Hazlitt posits the ability to appreciate the paintings of Claude Lorrain as the measure of a cultivated mind. In his delightful essay “On the Ignorance of the Learned,” he reserves his highest scorn for the kind of person who might have “a print of Rubens’s Watering Place, or Claude’s Enchanted Castle . . . hanging on the walls of his room for months without his once perceiving them” (1:50). Melville was not one of those. Despite Dullea’s advice about ignoring the “incidental” figure in Claude’s Enchanted Castle, Melville’s “perceives” the figure of Psyche with all the depth that Hazlitt could desire.

Before Hazlitt had identified the female figure in front of Claude’s Enchanted Castle as Psyche, an earlier generation of Englishmen had “identified the castle in question as that of Armida, the beautiful enchantress” in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (as Humphrey Wine has found from his study of sale catalogs of 1795 and 1809). In the translation by Hoole popular in England that time, Armida’s “castle stands . . . midst Asphaltus’ waves . . . in fatal lands” (Wine 130-31). In Clarel in 1876 Melville locates “Tasso’s Armida, by Lot’s sea, / Where the enchantress . . . such webs about Rinaldo wove” (NN C 2.16.80-84). Melville’s roving pictorial, literary, and mythical imagination was as deeply engaged by Armida in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (1581) as it was by Psyche in Claude’s Enchanted Castle (1664).