Claude Lorrain at the Louvre

Later in the afternoon, Eddy suggested that we look for the paintings of Claude Lorrain, which he hadn’t seen for a long time. I thought this was a good idea, since I had missed the big exhibition called “Claude Lorrain — The Enchanted Landscape” at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2012.

With the help of a nice museum guard who went out of his way to take us there, we finally found the paintings of Claude Lorrain in room 15 on the second floor of the Richelieu wing in the Louvre.

It turns out that the painter’s real name was Claude Gellée, but he was known as Claude Lorrain because he came from the Lorraine region in what is now northeastern France. (My theory is that he didn’t like the name Gellée because it sounded too much like jelly, but that’s just a guess, okay?)

(All you loyal readers of my post Exploring Auteuil might recall that in that quarter of Paris there is a small gated community called Villa Claude Lorrain, named after the painter.)

The painting in my first photo (above) is called Seaport with the Landing of Cleopatra in Tarsus. It was painted by Claude Lorrain in 1642-43 and is based on a real event that happened in 41 B.C. when Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, went to the Turkish town of Tarsus to meet Mark Antony, whom she was determined to seduce for political reasons. She was so successful at this that they later lived together for several years and had two children together.

Cleopatra’s voyage to Tarsus was three years after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. (Cleopatra was in Rome at the time) and seven years after Caesar’s arrival in Egypt in 48 B.C. The events of 48 B.C. were re-told in Händel’s opera Julius Caesar in Egypt, which I have seen at the Garnier Opera in Paris and several times at the Frankfurt Opera, with Brenda Rae as Cleopatra.

(I must admit that I was never much interested in Cleopatra until I saw this opera, but now I feel as though I ‘know’ her.)

In Claude Lorrain’s painting, Cleopatra and Mark Antony and all the other people are quite small in comparison to the large ships and buildings — perhaps a hint that we should not take these Very Important People quite as seriously as they took themselves. Eleven years later, in 30 B.C., Cleopatra and Mark Antony were both dead.

Port de mer

This painting by Claude Lorrain from the year 1646 is identified in English as “Seaport, Effect of Mist“. The artist only noted that he had painted it “for Paris”, but he didn’t say for whom. In any case, the painting was acquired by the King Louis XIV in 1695.

Vue d’un port avec le Capitole

This one is a view of Rome called “Seaport with the Campidoglio”, painted by Claude Lorrain in 1636. As to how the museum acquired this painting, they say it was a “revolutionary confiscation from the collection of the duc de Brissac”.

Ulysse remet Chryséis à son père

This painting shows “Ulysses Returning Chryseis to Her Father”, painted by Claude Lorrain sometime around 1644. This was based on an incident that supposedly took place during the Trojan War in the 13th or 12th century BC, as described in Homer’s Iliad. Actually, Agamemnon should have returned the girl himself, since he was the one who had abducted her in the first place, but he was so upset about losing Chryseis that he sent Ulysses (aka Odysseus) to do it for him.

Chryseis was presumably a very attractive young lady, but it’s hard to tell from the painting since she and the others are all so small. In fact, I have yet to figure out which of the people is Chryseis, which is her father and which is Odysseus. As Eddy pointed out, the remarkable thing about this painting is the sunlight. The setting sun is hidden behind the large sailing ship (larger than any the Greeks are likely to have actually had during the Trojan War) and only one ray of sunlight is reflected on the water of the harbor reaching all the way to the shore.

Le port de Gênes

This one is described as “The Port of Genoa, View from the Sea”. It was painted by Claude Lorrain between 1627 and 1629. According to the label by the painting, this view “is notable for its topographical accuracy. The artist may have drawn on an engraving to help with the composition, but he certainly saw the city in 1627 while he was returning to France by sea.”

Location and aerial view of the Louvre on

My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on the Louvre in Paris.

12 thoughts on “Claude Lorrain at the Louvre”

  1. Thank you for sharing these paintings, which seem to be variations on a theme. I am so glad you pointed out the single shaft of sunlight in the one painting: without it the sun’s position would be much harder to determine. I like your insight about humans being painted as insignificant in size, as compared to the buildings and harbor and scenery, Perhaps this is a trace of the slow democratization of art over time, with the common man and his surroundings becoming more an object of interest, rather than only heroes and gods.

    1. Yes, they are variations on a theme in a way — a theme that was very popular in the 17th century.
      Thanks for your visit and comment.

  2. At first I thought of the ships of Turner the English painter, but except for the last painting, all of Lorain’s paintings are pretty similar – all ships of his time backlit by the sun. Greek ships at the time of the Trojan War and also Roman ship had just one big sail and were mostly powered by a whole bunch of oars. It looks like he painted his favorite scenes, varying the buildings and then decided what to call them.

    1. Yes, the people in his paintings are small and insignificant, even if some of them are meant to be kings, queens or ancient heroes.

  3. In a way, “gelée” is not at all a bad name for him, as you could say that these moments of ethereal beauty seem captured as though in aspic or amber 🙂 It is of course interesting to compare his work with that of his friend and colleague Nicolas Poussin. The painter Joachim von Sandrart tells us that he, Poussin and Claude used to go on sketching trips together in the Roman Campagna. It’s also interesting to remember that Watteau, in some ways Claude’s artistic heir, was born in 1684, two years after Claude’s death. He has that same wonderful feel for landscape/seascape/light that Eddy refers to, and his figures too, seem subsidiary to sea, land, mountains, etc. Watteau’s pictures – an indicative sign of the times – are peopled by contemporary figures rather than mythological heroes. we know, I think from Sandrart again, that Claude often got his studio assistants to help out filling the figures in. Landscape was his main preoccupation.

    1. Poussin and Claude were born in different centuries, so I had them sorted into different generations in my mind, before realizing they were only six years apart. I was just thinking of Poussin, not only because he and Claude are now neighbors in the Louvre (rooms 14 and 15 on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing) but also because I once stayed in a small hotel called Hõtel Poussin in rue Poussin in Auteuil.

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