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Landscape--Christ Tempted

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CAT 135. R. Earlom after Claude. Landscape--Christ Tempted. From the Original Drawing in the Collection of R. P. Knight, Esq. No. 15 in volume 3 of Earlom's edition of the Liber Veritatis. Published Jan. 20, 1802 by J & J Boydell, No. 90, Cheapside, and at the Shakespeare Gallery, Pall Mall, London. E. Barton Chapin Jr. Family Collection.

This atmospheric print is from late in both Claude’s and Earlom’s careers. Claude dated the original drawing 1676, a decade after such “late” masterpieces as The Enchanted Castle (CAT 128), his last Cephalus and Procris (CAT 129), and his last Rape of Europa (CAT 131). In this late landscape the human figures are not incidental but essential—and one of them is divine. Melville’s copy of Earlom’s engraving does not include the title that Earlom gave to No. 15 in the third volume of his edition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis, but the halo alone would have helped Melville recognize that its subject is Landscape--Christ Tempted without having to consult the table of contents in that volume itself. Roethlisberger notes that this is “Claude’s only illustration of this popular subject” from Matthew 4:1-13 (Drawings, no. 1092, p. 402).

In 1676 Claude drew his Landscape with Temptation of Christ with pen and wash on blue paper (fig. 1). This medium was eminently suited to Earlom’s reproduction in etching and mezzotint. Roethlisberger points to the “rich composition and fine execution on blue paper” as evidence that Claude intended this drawing as “independent, pictorial work” even though it is an imitation, “almost stroke for stroke, but in a more modern style,” of a work by Adam Elsheimer (p. 402). Claude’s image is notable for the spiritual and psychological presence of the tempted Christ as he declares that “man shall not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” This drawing is also remarkable for the sublimity of the mountains softly receding into the distance, rendered by Earlom with striking fidelity to Claude’s subtle gradations of light. No less than in his much earlier rendering of View of a Sea Port during a Sun-Set (CAT 124), Earlom has captured Claude’s ability to “paint the air” in a masterful combination of etching and mezzotint technique.


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Figure 1. Claude Lorrain. Landscape with the Temptation of Christ. Pen and brown wash with grey-brown wash, heightened with white, on blue paper, 1676. British Museum.

Melville’s book on Claude by Dullea explained that Richard Earlom had based the third volume of his edition of the Liber Veritatis on drawings by Claude in the collection of Payne Knight that were later given to London’s National Gallery (87). That volume was not published as a whole until 1819, more than forty years after the two volumes from the drawings in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection were published in the 1770s. Dated 1802, Melville’s copy of the Landscape—Christ Tempted was published by Earlom nearly thirty years after his copies of the View of a Sea Port during a Sun-Set (CAT 124) and the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (CAT 125).

Melville presents his own poetic variations on the subject and atmospherics of Claude’s temptation scene in “The Wilderness,” book 2 of Clarel. Christ's temptation scene is reimagined by the Syrian Monk, whom Clarel and his fellow pilgrims encounter at the foot of Quarantina, its Biblical locale. The monk relates how he had found, during his own forty days of solitude in the surrounding heights, the exact site “Where tempter and the tempted stood / Of old.” Then he himself saw “The Saviour there—the Imp and He: / Fair showed the Fiend—foul enemy; / But, ah, the Other pale and dim: / I saw but as the shade of Him. / That passed. Again I was alone” (NN C 2.18.67-68, 78-83).

Several cantos after the Syrian Monk has conveyed his own vision of the subject of Claude’s temptation scene, Vine and Clarel come upon a landscape view whose atmospheric effects resemble those of Earlom’s engraving. They see Nehemiah, kneeling in prayer in “the glade / Beyond, wherein a niche was made / Of leafage.” He is suffused with an amplitude of light comparable to that which Claude bestows on Christ in the riverside temptation scene. Melville pictures

The meek one, on whom, as he prayed,
A golden shaft of mellow light
Oblique through vernal cleft above,
And making his pale forehead bright,
Scintillant fell. By such a beam
From heaven descended erst the dove
On Christ emerging from the stream.
It faded: ‘twas a transient ray;
And quite unconscious of its sheen,
The suppliant rose and moved away,
Not dreaming that he had been seen (2.28.144-58).

This Claudean moment was “mellow” in atmosphere and “golden” in tone, but it was not permanent. It has “faded” as surely as “the shade of Him” in the vision of the Syrian Monk. This is the spiritual equivalent of the psychological dynamic by which the psyche of Urania, in “After the Pleasure Party,” will be “silvered no more.”