Claude Lorrain

Annie Lee | Sep 16, 2023

Table of Content


Claude Gellée (Chamagne, Lorraine, between 1600 and 1605-Rome, Papal States, November 23, 1682), better known in English as Claude de Lorraine (in French Claude Lorrain, pronounced , although in his country he is better known simply as Le Lorrain), was a French painter established in Italy. Belonging to the period of Baroque art, it is framed in the current called classicism, within which he excelled in landscape painting. Of his extensive production, today, 51 engravings, 1200 drawings, and about 300 paintings survive.

Generally described by his contemporaries as a person of gentle character, he was reserved and totally dedicated to his craft. Almost devoid of education, he devoted himself to the study of classical subjects and made his fortune on his own, from humble beginnings to reach the pinnacle of personal success. He made his way in an environment of great professional rivalry, which, however, led him to deal with nobles, cardinals, popes and kings. His position within landscape painting is of the first order, a fact remarkable for the fact that in the Anglo-Saxon sphere - where his work was highly valued and even influenced English gardening - he is only known by his first name, Claude, like artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Rembrandt. A great innovator in the landscape genre, he has been described as the "first pure landscape painter".

Lorrain reflected in his work a new concept in the elaboration of the landscape based on classical references -the so-called "ideal landscape"-, which evidences an ideal conception of nature and of the artist's own inner world. This way of treating the landscape gives it a more elaborate and intellectual character and it becomes the main object of the artist's creation, the embodiment of his conception of the world, the interpreter of his poetry, which is evocative of an ideal, perfect space.

One of the most significant elements in Lorrain's work is the use of light, to which he gives primordial importance when conceiving the painting: the light composition serves in the first place as a plastic factor, being the basis with which he organizes the composition, with which he creates space and time, with which he articulates the figures, the architectures, the elements of nature; secondly, it is an aesthetic factor, emphasizing light as the main sensitive element, as the medium that attracts and envelops the viewer and leads him to a dream world, a world of ideal perfection recreated by the atmosphere of total serenity and placidity that Claude creates with his light.

Lorrain's work expresses an almost pantheistic feeling of nature, which is noble and ordered like that of the classical references from which Lorrain's opus draws, but still free and exuberant like wild nature. It recreates a perfect world alien to the passage of time, but of a rational nature, fully satisfactory for the mind and spirit. It follows that ancient ideal of ut pictura poesis, in which landscape, nature, translate a poetic sense of existence, a lyrical and harmonized conception of the universe.

Lorrain's life is known mainly from his first two biographers: the German painter Joachim von Sandrart (and the philologist and historian Filippo Baldinucci (Notizie de' professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, 1681-1728), who gathered information from the artist's nephews. Claude was born in 1600 in Chamagne, near Lunéville, south of Nancy, in the Duchy of Lorraine, then an independent region. He was the son of Jean Gellée and Anne Pedrose, of peasant origin, but somewhat well-to-do, and was the third of seven children. Orphaned in 1612, he spent a brief stay with his older brother in Freiburg in Breisgau; the latter, a wood sculptor specializing in marquetry, taught him the rudiments of drawing.

In 1613 he traveled to Rome, where he worked as a pastry chef, a traditional Lorraine trade. Possibly then he entered the service of Agostino Tassi, a late-Mannerist landscape painter, of whom he later became a disciple. Between 1619 and 1621 he settled in Naples, where he studied painting with Gottfried Wals, a well-known landscape painter from Cologne. It should be noted that it is not fully accredited whether his first training was with Tassi and then with Wals or vice versa, given the scarce data that are preserved about the artist in these years.

In 1625 he began a journey through Loreto, Venice, Tyrol and Bavaria, and returned to his place of origin, settling in Nancy for a year and a half. Here he collaborated as assistant to Claude Deruet, painter of the ducal court, and worked on the frescoes of the church of the Carmelites in Nancy (now lost). Finally, in 1627 he returned to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life. With a quiet and orderly life, once he settled in Rome he only changed his residence once, from Via Margutta to Via Paolina (today Via del Babuino). Although he remained single, he had a natural daughter, Agnese, with whom he lived together with two nephews who also came from Lorraine, Jean and Joseph Gellée.

In the 1630's he began to establish himself as a painter, making landscapes inspired by the Roman countryside, with a bucolic-pastoral air. He signed his paintings as le lorrain ("the Lorrain"), so he began to be known as Claude Lorrain. In Rome he contacted Joachim von Sandrart and other foreigners established in the papal see (Swanevelt, Poelenburgh, Breenbergh), with whom he was introduced to landscape painting. He also made friends with Nicolas Poussin, another Frenchman based in Rome. He gradually improved his position, so he was able to take into his service an assistant, Gian Domenico Desiderii, who worked with him until 1658.

Around 1630 he painted several frescoes in the Muti and Crescenzi palaces in Rome, a technique that, however, he did not use again. By then he began to enjoy a certain fame in artistic circles in Rome, so he received several commissions from prominent people and was favored by Cardinal Bentivoglio, who introduced him to Pope Urban VIII, who commissioned two works: Landscape with peasant dance (1637) and View of port (1637). His patrons were also cardinals Fabio Chigi and Giulio Rospigliosi, who later became popes Alexander VII and Clement IX. Throughout his life he painted mainly for the nobility and the clergy, and received commissions from all over Europe, especially from France, Spain, Great Britain, Flanders, Holland and Denmark. The demand for Lorrain's works was so great that in 1665 a dealer had to confess to the collector Antonio Ruffo, who bought several works by Rembrandt, that "there is no hope of obtaining a work by Claude; a lifetime would not be enough to satisfy his clients".

His fame was such that imitators -such as Sébastien Bourdon- began to emerge, so in 1635 he started the Liber Veritatis (British Museum), a sketchbook where he recorded all his compositions to avoid forgeries. This notebook consists of 195 drawings that copy the composition of his works, described down to the last detail, the client for whom they had been painted and the fees he had charged. In 1634 he joined the Accademia di San Luca, and in 1643 the Congregazione dei Virtuosi, a literary society founded in 1621 by Cardinal Ludovisi.

In 1636 he made another trip to Naples, and the following year he received a commission from the Spanish ambassador in Rome, the Marquis of Castel Rodrigo, for a series of etchings entitled Fireworks. Perhaps on his recommendation, Claude received a commission from Philip IV for the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid, to decorate the Gallery of Landscapes, along with works by contemporary artists such as Nicolas Poussin, Herman van Swanevelt, Jan Both, Gaspard Dughet and Jean Lemaire. Lorrain produced eight monumental paintings, in two groups: four in longitudinal format (1635-38) and four in vertical format (1639-41). The iconographic program, taken from the Bible and Stories of the Saints, was chosen by the Count-Duke of Olivares, who directed the works. In 1654 he refused the post of principal rector of the Accademia di San Luca to live fully dedicated to his profession. Suffering from gout since 1663, in his last years he produced fewer and fewer paintings, drifting towards a more serene, personal and poetic style.

He died in Rome on November 23, 1682 and was buried in the church of Trinità dei Monti, with great respect and admiration from the society of his time. In 1840 his remains were transferred to the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, where they now rest.


  1. Claude Lorrain
  2. Claudio de Lorena
  3. ^ a b Kitson, 6
  4. ^ technically part of the Holy Roman Empire
  5. ^ Kitson, 6, 9–10
  6. ^ Kitson, 8, 32–51; Sonnabend & Whiteley, 57–83; Fry, 158–160; The drawings of Claude : with an essay by Roger E. Fry and notes on the drawing reproduced, 1907, London: Burlington magazine
  7. No se sabe con certeza la fecha de nacimiento de Lorrain, establecida tradicionalmente alrededor del 1600, aunque según otros historiadores podría ser 1604 o 1605, tesis avalada principalmente por Michael Kitson en su estudio Claude Lorrain 'Liber Veritatis' (1978). La adjudicación al año 1600 proviene del epitafio del artista en la iglesia de la Trinità dei Monti: «A Claude Gellée lorenés, nacido en Chamagne, pintor eximio que pintó maravillosamente los rayos del sol naciente y poniente en la campiña, que desde la ciudad donde practicó su arte obtuvo las mayores alabanzas entre los grandes, y que murió el IX de calendas de diciembre de 1682 a la edad de LXXXII años. Para su queridísimo tío, Jean y Joseph Gellée han hecho colocar este monumento, que será también para sus sucesores». En cambio, diversos documentos del año 1635 le adjudicaban una edad de 30 años, por lo que cabría suponer que nació en 1604 o 1605. (Sureda, 2001, pp. 63-64.)
  8. Según Sandrart, «en su manera de vivir no era un gran cortesano, sino de buen corazón y pío. No buscó otro placer que su profesión». (Sureda, 2001, p. 66)
  9. Según Baldinucci, «estaba trabajando en los cuadros del rey [Felipe IV], a los cuales apenas había empezado a dar forma, cuando algunos envidiosos y ávidos de ganancias injustas no solo le robaron la invención, sino que imitaron su manera, y se vendieron en Roma las reproducciones por originales de su pincel, con lo que se desacreditaba el maestro, quedaba mal servido el personaje para el que se hacían los cuadros y defraudados los compradores a quienes se daban reproducciones por originales». (Sureda, 2001, p. 65)
  10. No se sabe a ciencia cierta quién realizó las gestiones para encargar obras a diversos autores para el Buen Retiro, varios especialistas dan nombres que van desde Velázquez —aunque su visita a Italia fue anterior—, el cardenal Barberini, el conde de Monterrey o el marqués de la Torre; pero el que señalan más expertos y quizá sea el más probable es el marqués de Castel Rodrigo, para el que ya había trabajado Lorrain. Entre la documentación de este diplomático consta una factura en 1641 a un transportista por llevar diecisiete cajones con cuadros de Roma al Buen Retiro. (Luna, 1984, pp. 34-36.)
  11. Não se sabe com certeza a data de nascimento de Lorrain, estabelecida tradicionalmente por volta de 1600, embora segundo outros historiadores poderia ser 1604 ou 1605, tese endossada principalmente por Michael Kitson em seu estudo Claude Lorrain Liber Veritatis (1978). O ano de 1600 vem do epitáfio do artista na igreja da Trinità dei Monti:«Para Claude Gellée Lorraine, nascido em Chamagne, um excelente pintor que pintou maravilhosamente os raios do nascer e pôr do sol no campo, que da cidade onde praticava sua arte obteve os maiores louvores entre os grandes, e quem morreu no dia 9 de calendas de dezembro de 1682 com a idade de LXXXII anos. Para o seu amado tio, Jean e Joseph Gellée colocaram este monumento, que será também para os seus sucessores.» Por outra parte, diversos documentos do ano 1635 lhe atribuíam uma idade de 30 anos, pelo que se supunha que nasceu em 1604 ou 1605.[1]
  12. De acordo com Sandrart, "em seu modo de vida ele não era um grande cortesão, mas um bom coração e uma pessoa piedosa. Ele não procurou nenhum outro prazer além de sua profissão".[15]
  13. Joachim von Sandrart (trad. Charles Martine), Claude Gellée dit Le Lorrain : Cinquante-deux reproductions de Léon Marotte avec un catalogue et une vie du peintre, Paris, Helleu et Sergent, 1922.

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