Skip to main content

Six Unframed Mythological, Pastoral, and Religious Landscapes

The six unframed landscape prints in this section after images by Claude Lorrain are evenly divided among mythological, pastoral, and religious subjects. Four of these prints are from the Melville Chapin Collection, two from the Bart Chapin Family Collection. Three are engraved on steel from paintings in public collections for mid-nineteenth-century publications; three include an etching component for more limited distribution; one of the latter reproduces one of Claude’s own drawings for the Liber Veritatis. Some of these prints could qualify for the “landscape and” designation that is often applied to Claude’s sometimes loose titular allusions to figures in his landscapes, but others are more intentional in inspiration and execution.

Melville would have gotten his first exposure to actual Claudean landscapes in the picture galleries of England he visited during his six-week residence in London in 1849. He would have seen quite a variety of paintings by Claude among the public collections he visited at Hampton Court, the Dulwich Gallery, Windsor Castle, and the National Gallery, but he would have had his most personal and intimate initiation into the art and ethos of Claude Lorrain during his two visits to the private gallery in the personal home of Samuel Rogers. Rogers owned two memorable paintings by Claude. One was Landscape; Evening; with Buildings and Figures he had acquired from the Orleans Collection; the other was Landscape: the Mill; a Shepherd playing his pipe he had acquired from the collection of Benjamin West (nos. 5 and 6 in the Catalog of the Rogers Collection in the 1844 edition of Hazlitt’s Criticisms of Art). The Landscape with the Piping Shepherd (whose Liber Veritatis drawing we have already discussed and reproduced on this site as CAT 123, fig. 2) was widely considered to be one of the absolute gems of Rogers’s collection, catching the essence of Claude’s most lyrical pastoral landscape expression.

Rogers’s collection was also rich in landscapes by Domenichino, Claude’s predecessor in taking Italian landscape painting into new dimensions of autonomous, self-sufficient pictorial expression. Rogers owned an Infant Christ by Domenichio, but his other three paintings by this artist were landscapes in the “landscape and” tradition pioneered by Domenichino in the 1610s and expanded by Claude beginning in the 1630s. One of those landscapes represented the mythological element of that tradition: Landscape; with the Flaying of Marsyas. Another represented the pastoral element: Landscape;“The Bird Catchers.” The third represented the religious element: Landscape;“Tobit and the Fish” (nos. 18-20 in the Catalog in the 1844 edition of Hazlitt’s Criticisms of Art).

The “landscape and” paintings that Domenichino created during his residence in Rome and its environs challenged the status of those historical paintings whose own traditions it honored only in miniature, titular fashion by inserting very small figures into very large landscapes whose titles alluded, sometimes, very loosely, to some mythological, pastoral, or religious theme. Claude extended and expanded upon Domenichino’s precedent by making the landscapes larger, the figures within them smaller, and the titular allusions looser. The paintings in which he did so were extremely popular in England while Vivares and Woollett were creating the English tradition in landscape engraving in the years between A View in Naples in 1769 and The Enchanted Castle in 1782. Such paintings were still very highly regarded by English collectors in December 1849, when Melville saw Domenichino’s “landscape and” painting in the private collection of Samuel Rogers—and in the presence of Rogers himself (NN J 44, 46, 367-69, 375-76).

In Samuel Rogers Melville had the perfect guide to the evolution of the Italian “landscape and” tradition from Domenichino and Claude all the way through to the Italianate vignettes that J. M. W. Turner had created to accompany the poems in the celebrated 1830 edition of Rogers’s Italy. Born in 1763, Rogers had come of age as both a poet and a connoisseur of the arts in England during the era in which landscapes painted by Claude Lorrain were considered to be the epitome of artistic expression. In addition to building his own art collection with paintings of Italian Old Masters purchased from the Orleans Collection and other sources in England, Rogers had spent considerable time in Italian towns and galleries exploring the lives and legacies of the painters he most admired. During his one morning alone with Rogers and his “superb collection,” followed the more social visit with other guests a few days later, Melville probably learned more about those Italianate painters whose works were to enter his own print collection (from Francia, Sebastiano, Raphael, Titian, and Veronese on to Guido, Domenichino, Claude, and Poussin) than would have been possible from any other single individual.

Eight years after sampling paintings by all the above artists during two visits to Rogers’s private collection, Melville was able to immerse himself in the works of all of these painters, and the tradition they represented, during his own two-month tour of the towns and galleries of Italy. Two weeks after seeing Domenichino’s extraordinary ensemble of frescoes and altarpieces throughout the Royal Treasury of the Cathedral dedicated to St. Januarius in Naples (see “Domenichino in landscape and in the Cathedral of Naples” in CAT 112, fig.6), Melville would have seen another variation by Domenichino of the Landscape with “Tobit and the Fish” he had seen in Rogers’s collection. This version had been acquired by London’s National Gallery in 1831 (fig. 1 below).

CAT 129 before fig 1 Domenichino Tobias Fish National Gallery London.jpg

Fig. 1. Domenichino. Landscape with Tobias laying hold of the Fish, oil on copper, about 1610-13. National Gallery London.

Many mysteries remain about the life of Claude Lorrain. There were only two early biographers and they disagreed on many important details, beginning with the date of his birth (1600 or 1604/05). Also unknown is the nature or extent to which Claude’s landscapes were actually influenced by those of Domenichino. Roethlisberger saw “a deep affinity” between these two landscapes painters but considered any actual “influence” to be severely limited (Paintings, pp. 10-11). The manner in which each artist depicted the story of “Tobias and the Fish” offers an interesting test case.

Like Domenichino, Claude Lorraine painted two known versions of this subject. The earlier version is currently at the Prado Museum in Madrid, the other at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Roethlisberger considers the painting at the Prado, a vertical composition from 1639-40 (fig. 2), to be “the most poetic picture which Claude created up to this date. The purity of the landscape, containing only a few genre elements, the evocative evening atmosphere, and the monumentality of the trees are a fitting expression of the subject” (p. 186).

CAT 129 before fig 2 Claude The Archangel Raphael and Tobias Prado 1639-40.jpg

Figure 2. Claude Lorrain. The Archangel Raphael and Tobias, oil on canvas, 1639-40. The Prado, Madrid.

The “affinities” between Domenichino and Claude are certainly very strong in the above two paintings of the same subject. In each case, the figures are small in relation to the landscape, but each angel is very tall in relation to Tobias and the fish. The curving river winds through each evocative landscape in much the same manner, and monumental trees on the side of each painting frame a deep, receding landscape. These similarities in subject, composition, and visual style suggest that the affinities expressed here may be more than merely accidental. So does the fact that Claude painted this composition at the end of the 1630s, a decade during which he had himself made paintings and executed commissions in Naples while Domenichino had been continuously occupied in designing and painting frescoes and altarpieces in the Royal Treasury of the Cathedral there.

Melville was himself keenly interested in the complex relationships between great artists including Titian and Raphael in painting, Dante and Virgil in literature, Milton and Shakespeare  in literature, and Turner and Claude in painting. He condensed that interest into one phrase in the poem “Art” he published in 1891:  “Audacity / reverence.”  One expects he would have been interested in any affinities between the manner in which Domenichino and Claude had each responded to the Biblical story of Tobias, the angel, and the fish. In London in 1849 he would have seen paintings of that subject by Domenichino both at the National Gallery and at Rogers’s private gallery. But what could he have known of the paintings by Claude that were at the Prado in Spain and the Hermitage in Russia?

Melville had access to considerable knowledge when he acquired a copy of Dullea’s book about Claude, published in 1887. “The List of Pictures by Claude in Public and Private Collections” in Appendix C did include both Landscape: Tobit and the Archangel Raphael at the Prado Museum in Spain and Landscape: Tobit and the Angel at the Hermitage in Russia. These entries also included the respective Liber Veritatis numbers for each painting (LV 50 and 160). Those numbers referred the reader to the “Liber Veritatis” chart in Appendix B in which Claude’s 200 Liber drawings are listed consecutively, each accompanied by a “Description of drawing,” “Claude’s inscription on the drawing,” and the “Present owner of picture corresponding to drawing.” Here Melville would have learned that the Tobias and the Angel painting at the Royal Museum in Madrid corresponding to L. V. 50 had been sold directly to “il re di Spagna” and that the Tobit and the Angel painting at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg had originally been sold to a private collector in Auvers, France. He would also have learned that the Landscape: the Piping Shepherd corresponding with LV 11, the one he had seen at the home of Samuel Rogers in 1849, and been sold for “600 guineas” at the poet’s estate sale in 1856.

Information of this sort in the appendices of Dullea’s 1887 book would have been of considerable interest to Melville as a collector of fifteen prints by or after Claude Lorrain by the end of his life, but it would not have told him much about the degree to which Claude’s landscapes resembled Domenichino’s landscapes beyond some of the titles or subjects they shared. Several of the Claudean landscapes reproduced in Dullea’s book had general stylistic affinities with works by Domenichino Melville had seen, but none of their titles pointed to specific influence. For that Melville had to turn to the copy of The Works of Eminent Masters, published in 1854, that he had acquired in 1871 (Sealts no. 564). That book had a substantial essay on Claude Lorrain featuring up to date biographical and interpretive information enriched by a substantial list of individual works by Claude in public and private collections throughout England and the Continent (pp. 337-51). That list would have helped Melville remember specific works in specific collections he had seen in London and Paris in 1849 and in Italy and London in 1857 as well as to track the location of various paintings by Claude he was to be reading about or adding to his print collection during the last two decades of his life.

The comprehensive entry about Claude in Melville's copy of The Works of Eminent Masters included six engravings after landscapes by Claude. The one on page 345 was labeled Tobias and the Angel—From a Painting by Claude Lorraine (fig. 3). A parenthetical note on page 348 identified this as the version of this subject that went directly from Claude’s studio to the Museum of the King of Spain. But this engraving is missing the fish Tobias is subduing in the Madrid painting (fig 2). In this engraving, the Tobias figure is looking directly into the eyes of the angel, and the angel is seen from the side rather than from the frontal view seen in Madrid.

CAT 129 before fig 3 laude Works Tobias and the Angel p. 345.jpg

Figure 3. “Tobias and the Angel—from a Painting by Claude Lorraine.” In Herman Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters in Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, and Decorative Art. London: John Cassell, 1854. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

As we show in MBB 3.2, the engraving labeled Tobias and the Angel on the above page from Melville’s 1854 copy of The Works of Eminent Masters is actually a reproduction of the painting of Hagar and the Angel that is reproduced as The Annunciation, from the Picture in the National Gallery in Melville’s 1887 copy of Dullea’s Claude Gellée Le Lorrain. In Appendix B of Dullea's book, it is presented as Landscape: The Annunciation, or Hagar and the Angel (LS 106, p. 110; see fig. 6 in our MMB 3.2). Roethlisberger indicates that Claude’s Landscape with Hagar and the Angel had been donated to London’s National Gallery by Sir George Beaumont in the 1820s and notes that “its compositional type goes back to Domenichino,” showing “particular affinities” with Domenichino’s “small picture illustrating the similar theme of Tobias and the Angel,” also at the National Gallery (Paintings, LV 106, pp. 268-69).

So, whether he knew it or not, Melville had access to two separate engravings, with two different titles, in two different books, of the painting at the National Gallery in London that Dullea labeled as The Annunciation and further identified as Landscape: The Annunciation, or Hagar and the Angel. Roethlisberger notes “that the angel is pointing to the home of Abraham, from which Hagar has been expelled,” quite a different subject from anything suggested by the caption Tobias and the Fish given to the same image in Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters. This situation alone shows that the titles Claude gave to his “Landscape and” paintings sometimes do matter. For Melville to know from Dullea’s documentation in 1887 that Claude’s riverside Annunciation in Dullea’s book is being delivered by the angel to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, who has been cast out with her from the house of Abraham, would certainly increase his interest in this particular title.

Domenichino’s Landscape with Tobias laying hold of the fish (fig. 1 above) and Claude’s Landscape with Hagar and the Angel (misnamed Tobias and the Angel in fig. 3 above, and reproduced by Dullea as The Annunciation in our MBB 3.2, fig. 6) certainly do show strong affinities in the landscape style even though their narrative subjects differ. The small size of each of these oil paintings, their vertical orientations, the location of the action near the turn in a river, the framing of the action with trees on both sides, and the relative size of the figures in relation to each other and in relation to the landscape—all these elements express a strong affinity and perhaps actual influence. For me, the strongest indicator of actual influence is degree to which the dramatic rocky cliff topped by a castle or fortress in the middle distance of Claude’s painting (fig. 3 above) resembles the nearly identical formation and position in the middle distance of Domenichino’s painting (fig. 1 above).

Melville would not have had to remember his visits to London’s National Gallery in 1849 or 1857 to make this comparison. After 1871 he could make it in the copy he acquired of The Works of Eminent Masters published in 1854. Claude’s Tobias and the Angel (fig. 3 above) was one of seven illustrations in the essay on Claude Lorrain. Domenichino’s Tobias and the Angel (fig. 4 below) was one of eight illustrations in the essay on Domenichino (“Domenic Zampieri,” 2:204).

CAT 129 before fig 4 Domenichino Tobias and Fish in Melville's copy of Works.jpg

Figure 4. Tobias and the Angel—From a painting by Zampieri (Domenichino) at London’s National Gallery. In Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters, London, 1854, 2:204. Houghton Library, Harvard University (Sealts no. 564).

Those two paintings in London’s National Gallery, each reproduced as illustrations in Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters, show about as closely as any two paintings could the degree to which Domenichino’s landscapes actually influenced those of Claude Lorrain. So does the essay on Domenichino in Melville’s copy of Works, which declares that “without a doubt Poussin and Claude learned something from the landscapes” of Domenichino and the Carraci; “their manner directly recalls that of the Bolognese masters.” The main difference this author sees is that the two French masters brought “more fire and animation” to the landscapes of their Italian predecessors (2:197).

After detailing the persecutions Domenichino faced while devoting the last decade of his life to designing and painting altarpieces and frescoes throughout the Royal Treasury of the Cathedral of Januarius in Naples, this essay concludes with a comprehensive account of the presence of paintings by Domenichino in collections across Europe and throughout England. The survey of his paintings in London listed five paintings at the National Gallery, one of which was Tobias and the Angel, “a charming little picture, which we have engraved” (figure 4 above). It also listed three of the Domenichinos in the private collection of Samuel Rogers, one of which was Tobit and the Fish, “very attractive, with the poetry of the composition and the delicacy of the finish” (Works, 2: 200, 202). Melville would have seen both of these paintings by Domenichino inspired by the book of Tobit (Tobias), in addition Claude’s Tobias and the Angel (fig. 3 above), during his multiple visits to the National Gallery and Rogers’s collection in 1849.

The highly compatible manner in which in which Domenichino and Claude had created these three landscapes inspired by the same book of the Bible would have given the young author and future print collector early intimations of a truth he was to mark and underline in the copy of Hazlitt’s Criticisms of Art he acquired in 1870: “there are only three pleasures in life pure and lasting, and all are derived from inanimate objects—books, pictures, and the face of nature” (underlines Melville’s, MMO 261a.041; Whatever pleasure young Melville may have taken in the way in which Domenichino and Claude had each placed Tobit and the Angel in relation not only to each other but to the river and the larger landscape in the paintings he saw in the two London galleries would have been deepened by the reproduction, discussion, and documentation of those works in the copies of Works and Claude Gellée Le Lorrain he was later to acquire as a poet and print collector.