Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), River View (detail), oil on canvas, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Kress Collection © National Gallery of Art, Washington


9 March 2011 to 6 June 2011 – Grand Palais, Galeries nationales

More than eighty paintings and some thirty drawings from the Louvre and the Prado as well as many public and private collections present the most striking aspects of the history of landscape painting in the first half of the 17th century. The highlights are the diffusion of the works of Annibale Carracci; the assertion of Northern European naturalism; the development of neo-Venetian landscapes from the 1620s; the increasing number of painted views in genre scenes; the success of topographic landscapes and architectural caprices; and the extraordinary rendering of light and atmospheric effects.

Landscape painting started in earnest in Rome in the first half of the seventeenth century. Before then, nature was not an independent genre in European painting and the capital of Christianity witnessed the birth and development of this new pictorial category which became immensely popular. Since antiquity, artists had gone to Rome to complete their training but at the end of the sixteenth century various factors combined to foster a new profane genre: the simultaneous presence of sometimes highly specialised artists from many different centres, especially Flanders; the attraction of the eternal city, reinvigorated by the recent transformation of its urban landscape; a growing taste for drawing from the motif and the use of these sketches in studio painting; the impact of printmaking on the circulation of images and an upsurge in art theories; the existence of large collections of works by the Renaissance masters; and the huge commercial success of landscape paintings among art lovers, especially in aristocratic and pontifical families.

A number of the greatest seventeenth-century artists contributed to the emergence of landscape painting, including Annibale Carracci, Adam Elsheimer, Pieter Paul Rubens, Paul Bril, Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Gaspard Dughet. The exhibition seeks to show some of their most accomplished works, illustrating their share in the development of various types of representation of nature, from ideal views of the Roman countryside to seascapes, through architectural caprices and nostalgic antique scenes in which myths alternate with history.

By the mid seventeenth century, the new pictorial genre was no longer a minor art; its prestige for the aristocratic collections is shown by the huge paintings commissioned for Buen Retiro palace in Madrid. The most experienced artists participated in cycles of paintings in the European courts which were a source of inspiration for artists all over Europe for several centuries. Landscape became a category in its own right and henceforth an integral part of art history.

The exhibition is divided into five sections:
I – Annibale Carracci, Paul Bril and Adam Elsheimer in Rome
II – Changes in Bolognese landscapes: the presence of classical culture
III – Changes in Northern landscapes: the diversification of Flemish culture and types of landscape
IV – The early years of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin
V – The great landscapes of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin

About twenty of the most significant drawings that the artists made in Rome are displayed halfway through the exhibition. Sometimes drawn in the open air but recomposed in the studio, they illustrate the growing importance of such studies in the genesis of landscape painting.

Museum Hours