Claude Lorrain
Biography of Classical Style Baroque Landscape Painter.

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Landscape with Apollo & Mercury (1645)
Typical Claudean Italianate Landscape

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Claude Lorrain (1600-82)


Biographical Sources
Training Under Agostino Tassi
Landscape Painting
First Period: Seascapes, Landscapes
Second Period: Greater Emphasis on Mythological Elements
Later Years
Style of Painting
Paintings by Claude Lorrain

Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed
media from 1300-1800.


A major figure in French painting, at Chamagne in Lorraine, the artist known as Claude Gellee or Claude Lorrain is one of the best landscape artists of the 17th century. He specialised in ideal-landscapes, a traditional form of landscape painting that aims to present an idyllic view of nature which is even more beautiful and harmonious than nature itself. This form of landscape art was governed by classical concepts, and typically featured classical ruins, and pastoral figures in classical dress. Apart from a short visit to Germany and France from 1625 to 1627, Claude Lorrain spent his whole working life in Italy, and his work must be examined in the context of the Roman school of Baroque art. Indeed, along with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), he was one of the foremost exponents of the classical idiom within Baroque painting. Claude's works focused on the major concerns of 17th-century Italian art - namely, the study of nature and the exploration of light. His achievements in these fields rank him with the greatest of his contemporaries, although he limited his investigation of those themes to landscape painting, unlike other Old Masters such as Rubens (1577-1640), Rembrandt (1606-69), and Poussin for whom this was only one aspect of their approach. Claude radically extended the concept of landscape, giving it historical significance without sacrificing his sensibility to effects of nature. In this manner, the Claudean style further developed the classical tradition of landscape painting which had evolved in Italy since the quattrocento Renaissance. See, for instance, Classicism and Naturalism in Italian 17th Century Painting. For a different approach to landscape, see Salvator Rosa (1615-73) and his anti-classical works.



Biographical Sources

There are two sources for the life of Claude: biographies by Joachim von Sandrart (Academia Artis Pictoriae, 1683) and by Filippo Baldinucci. Sandrart (1606-88) was a contemporary of Claude during his early years in Italy. He was one of the many Northern artists who flocked to Rome in the early 17th century and with whom Claude was initially associated. Sandrart accompanied Claude on many of those expeditions in the countryside around Rome that remained his greatest inspiration. His biography is particularly valuable for its firsthand account of Claude's working method - especially of the studies from Nature which form the basis of Claude's art. In comparison, Baldinucci (1624-96), belonged to the generation after Claude's, and obtained most of his information from the artist's nephew. His is a more professional type of biography, detailed and objective, but less circumstantial. Both tended to stress the supposed naivety of the painter, but the modern view more justly appreciates the intellectual content of his art and the seriousness of purpose of this careful and conscientious artist.

Training Under Agostino Tassi

Born Claude Gellee, the third of five sons, at Chamagne in Lorraine, Sandrart claims that he was originally apprenticed to a pastry cook, while Baldinucci claims that he began in the studio of his elder brother, a wood engraver in Strasbourg. Whatever the case, his first significant training began in Italy where he had arrived by 1615. He may have worked for the German painter Gottfried Wals in Naples for the first two years, but the first certain evidence of artistic training is his apprenticeship to Agostino Tassi (1580-1644) in Rome, in 1618. He stayed with this artist until 1625. Tassi was a major influence on the formation of Claude's style - as a decorative landscape painter working mostly in the medium of fresco painting, his art was firmly based on the classical traditions of landscape. It used the elements of landscape and coast scenes, with pastoral, biblical, or mythlogical figures, architecture and shipping. All these themes formed part of the Claudean style of landscape painting.


Landscape Art

One must remember that in 17th century Counter-Reformation Rome, the philosophical centre of Italian art and a city still strongly influenced by the high-mindedness of Renaissance art, landscape as an independent subject was not taken seriously. Ranked 4 out of 5 in the "Hierarchy of the Genres", it lacked the aesthetic and ethical value of the top painting genres - namely, History Painting and Portraiture. To overcome this, landscape artists like Claude injected mythological narrative and noble themes to their pictures, in order to add extra seriousness. See also: Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610).


After his return to Italy in 1627 Claude received a number of commissions for mural paintings in the Palaces of certain High Churchmen in Rome. However, he quickly abandoned this medium in favour of oil painting. His patrons remained drawn from aristrocatic circles - the Medici, Cardinal Bentivoglio, Pope Urban VIII, Philip IV of Spain. In this he differed from his contemporary, Poussin, whose paintings were generally commissioned by the intellectual bourgeoisie.

First Period: Seascapes, Landscapes

In his first period, up to the 1640s, Claude produced many seascapes and landscapes which greatly developed the rather schematic compositions of Tassi and the Flemish artist Paul Bril (1554-1626). He succeeded in connecting the planes of his compositions by subtle aerial gradations which produced real unity of atmosphere. His landscapes are suffused with light - a result of his observations of nature, also evidenced in the many studies he made in the open air. He was the first to attempt to depict the sun on canvas and to explore its effects as accurately as possible.

Second Period: Greater Emphasis on Mythological Elements

In his second period, from the 1640s until his death, Claude's naturalism is increasingly affected by a classical humanist feeling. This derives from his study of the art of Domenichino (1581-1641) and of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), especially as seen in the latter's contributions to frescoes in the Palazzo Aldobrandini, Rome (c.1604). His artistic purpose became more ambitious with the inclusion of specific subjects drawn from Classical mythology or the Bible. His compositions were more posed and complicated than the earlier pastorals, and can be considered as fully historical: the form of the landscape depends directly on the significance of the subject matter, and the figures play an integral part in the composition. This mature style is brilliantly represented by pictures such as Landscape with Dancers (1669, Hermitage, St Petersburg) and View of Carthage (1676, Kunsthalle, Hamburg), two of his best Baroque paintings, in which Claude has manipulated the figures and the scenery to great dramatic effect.

Later Years

In search of a more severe, epic style of painting, Claude turned for inspiration to Virgil's Aeneid which increasingly suited his mood towards the end of his life. The last paintings achieve a supreme blend of poetic feeling and decorative art equal in sublimity to that of the Classical poet. There is no perceptible falling off in technical ability or his sublime use of colour tones. The acceptance of the qualities of Mannerism now allow his very personal handling of his figures to be recognized as an essential ingredient of his art, and not as the failing they had for long been considered. This is quite evident in his last painting, Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Silvia (1682, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), painted in his 82nd year.

Style of Painting

The representative par excellence of classical landscape, Claude presents an idealized concept of his theme - with few exceptions, for instance, the sites of his paintings tend to be imaginary. The composition, depending on the dimensions of the canvas, contains a varying number of planes and features (groups of trees, buildings). The layout tends to be based upon simple mathematical proportions (thirds and quarters of height or width). Almost all his works were executed in pairs, illustrating the same theme and with the same interior proportions, but contrasting in composition, atmosphere and time of day, as well as in such features as the species and disposition of the trees, and even the style of building. Cold light streaming in from the left indicates morning; coming from the right, with its warm sunsets, it indicates evening.

Claude's vision of the Classical world was quite different in conception to that other giant of 17th century painting, Nicolas Poussin, the artist who worked most closely to him during his life. Poussin's landscapes are intellectual constructs that depend directly on the imagination of the artist. The landscapes of Claude, while no less ideal and no more 'outdoor' than Poussin's, are rooted in his observation of the natural world. It was this early naturalism that made his art so consistently appealing to later generations, especially to those who fell under the spell of the Classical terrain of Italy.

Compare the Dutch Realist style of genre painting popularized in France by the Le Nain Brothers, during the early 17th century.


With over 1,200 drawings to his credit, all highly skilled, Claude is one of the greatest masters of the art of drawing (the British Museum alone possesses more than 500 of his works on paper). There are actually two principal groups of drawings, the studies from life made on a particular theme, and those made in the studio, which are typical of the artist's later work. But whether done outdoors or in the studio, all his drawings reveal the same careful structure and pictorial effects and may thus be numbered among his finished works.

Claude kept several albums of drawings as a record of his artistic progress, including the Wildenstein album which contains 60 drawings covering his entire career, and which reveals the influence of Tassi and Deruet during the 1620s, that of Breenburgh about 1630 and the development of his mature style after 1633.

After 1636 Claude kept a careful record of his compositions and his patrons in a 200-page book, the Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth, British Museum). This book is a chronological series of pen-and-ink drawings - of his major commissions - which are as remarkable an achievement as his paintings. About 50 percent are studies from nature. Drawn freely in chalk or pen, ink and wash, they are more spontaneous than his paintings or studio drawings and comprise a collection of informal motifs - trees, ruins, waterfalls, parts of meadows or riverside views in sunlight - that Claude witnessed on his sketching expeditions in the Italian Campagna. The book was twice engraved by Earlom in the 1770s, then by Caracciolo in 1815.


Claude had only one pupil, Angeluccio, who died young, but the influence of his painting, especially that of his first period, was immense, even during his lifetime, particularly on Dughet and his school and on certain Dutch Realists, like Aelbert Cuyp, who painted in the Italian style. In 18th-century England, the much-admired Claudean style had a tangible impact on the layout of many country estates, and was a major influence on the English school, from Richard Wilson (1714-82) to the great JMW Turner (1775-1851). In Italy his example was followed right up until the beginning of the 19th century by such classical landscape painters as Orizzonte, Vanvitelli, Locatelli and Anesi. His influence extended to France (Patel, Rousseau) and to German Baroque artists, for whom Claude came to represent the very idea of Italy in painting.

But above all, Claude remained a painter of nature, which was why the great John Constable (1776-1837) - one of the leading figures in the English School of Landscape painting - described Claude Lorrain as "the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw".

Paintings by Claude Lorrain

One of the greatest of 17th century French Baroque artists, works by Claude Lorrain hang in many of the world's best art museums, as can be seen from the following list of his famous landscape paintings.

- Landscape with Cattle and Peasants (1629) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Landscape with Merchants (1630) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Landscape with Goatherd (1636) National Gallery, London.
- The Ford (1636) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
- Port with Villa Medici (1637) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
- Finding of Moses (1638) Prado Museum, Madrid.
- Pastoral Landscape (1638) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
- Seaport (1639) National Gallery, London.
- Seaport at Sunset (1639) Louvre, Paris.
- View of Campagna (1639) British Royal Art Collection, London.
- Embarkation of Saint Paula Romana at Ostia (1639) Prado, Madrid.
- The Embarkation of St. Ursula (1641) National Gallery, London.
- The Disembarkation of Cleopatra at Tarsus (1642) Louvre, Paris.
- The Trojan Women Setting Fire to their Fleet (1643) The Met, NY.
- View of Tivoli at Sunset (1644) San Francisco Museum of Art.
- Mercury Stealing Apollo's Oxen (1645) Galleria Doria-Pamphilj, Rome.
- Landscape w. Cephalus and Procris reunited by Diana (1645) London.
- The Judgement of Paris (1645-46) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Sunrise (1646-47) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
- Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac & Rebekah (1648) London.
- Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) National Gallery, London.
- Landscape with Paris and Oenone (1648) Louvre, Paris.
- View of La Crescenza (1648-50) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- Landscape with Dancing Figures (1648) Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome.
- View of La Crescenza (1648-50) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
- The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1651-61) Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
- Landscape with Acis and Galatea (1657) Gemaldegalerie, Dresden.
- Landscape with Apollo and Mercury (1660) Wallace Collection, London.
- Coast Scene with the Rape of Europa (1667) Royal Collection, London.
- The Expulsion of Hagar (1668) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Seaport (1674) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia (1682) Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

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