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).