(b. 1604, Chamagne, d. 1682, Roma)

A Seaport at Sunrise

Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Claude Lorrain drew the sum of Italian and northern European landscape painting, and on this basis developed the High Baroque ideal landscape par excellence. The secret of the special effect of depth in his paintings lies in his perfection of proportions and perspective. Not even his most talented imitators, of whom there would be myriads in Europe and America in the centuries to come, were able to match it. For all the beauty of his works, however, we should not forget to note their original social function. The palaces of the secular and ecclesiastical elites of the period, not only in Rome, were furnished with an almost unimaginable luxury. The festival held by Philippe d'Aglie in about 1637 in Rivoli, for instance, presented panorama views of the provinces of Savoy Piedmont, Turin and Montferrat, each in its own room. The dining table was mounted on casters and pushed, complete with diners, from room to room. The party banqueted and danced among the landscapes, and as the people (rather than the setting) were portable, they could imagine they were traveling through the countryside.

Art formed the setting for a society that reveled in pomp and display. Its tendency to the theatrical is also evident in Claude's paintings. To hold their own in opulent surroundings, they needed effective composition and poetic coloration. This is particularly evident in his stagelike views of harbours, except that they far surpass any theater set in terms of their stupendous effects of illumination and space. Seaport at Sunrise, in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, is a prime example. In the midst of imaginative scenery mundane activities like the transport of bales of goods by boat are, as it were, projected back into the Arcadian idylls of ancient Greece and Rome.

This painting is the latest of the three existing versions of the subject.