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

Aeneas's Farewell to Dido in Carthago

Oil on canvas, 120 x 149,2 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Compared with Poussin, Claude had a relative lack of interest in his subject-matter, and his attitude in this respect was much more akin to that of his contemporaries. This was that the subject should be obvious to those who looked for it but that it should not spoil the viewer's appreciation of the beauty of the landscape. From the 1640s onwards Claude invented a perfect compromise between subject and landscape: instead of repeating his favourite earlier subjects such as the Flight into Egypt (which was used merely as a vehicle for a landscape) he began to use the poetry of Virgil as a major source of his subject-matter.

Unlike Poussin, who tried to imitate his source in as accurate a manner as possible, Claude used the poetry as a source of general inspiration for his pictures, which remained landscapes first and foremost. Virgil's pastoral poetry, the Eclogues and the Georgics, had already been used by Claude in a generalized way for his many scenes of shepherds resting, dancing or simply minding their flocks in an ideal landscape. The almost wistful verse of Virgil could be translated into paint by Claude without any pedantic references to specific passages, and without arousing any argument over the precise passage illustrated.

The story depicted in the painting is from Virgil's Aeneid (4:362-392). The lovers, Dido and Aeneas, passed a whole winter in each other's company, until Aeneas was suddenly visited by Mercury, the messenger of the gods, with sharp orders from Jupiter to be on his way. He took his leave amid scenes of passionate pleading, vituperation and tears. When Aeneas had departed Dido built a funeral pyre in the palace and slew herself on it, using her lovers sword.

The painting is included in Liber Veritatis (LV 186).

Henry Purcell (c. 1659-1695), the English composer and organist, composed an opera from the story of Dido and Aeneas.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 9 minutes):
Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas, Dido's Farewell