Landscape with Shepherds The Pont Molle

Claude Lorrain
Keywords: LandscapeShepherdsPontMolle

Work Overview

Landscape with Shepherds - The Pont Molle (Rome and the Ponte Molle)
Oil on canvas
74 x 97 cm
City Art Gallery, Birmingham

The picture, painted for a Parisian collector, is one of the rare works of Claude's maturity that depict and identifiable site.

The best example of Claude's direct response to nature, although not topographically accurate, is the Landscape with Shepherds - the Ponte Molle of 1645 in the City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham. Each element in the picture is perfectly observed from nature; nothing is obviously artificial, but Claude arranged these elements - cabbage-like plants on the ground, classical ruins, a large pine tree - in a way which later generations came to regard as picturesque. To those unfamiliar with the actual landscape he painted, Claude's pictures seem even more artificial than they are. The Roman Campagna has changed little since the seventeenth century, especially the area around Tivoli; the terrain is dotted with the ruins of classical antiquity and there are numerous scattered pine trees which seem, especially when one is walking through them, to take on a `Claudian' aspect when juxtaposed with ruins. The light is marvelously clear, with the sky changing from blue to yellow in the morning and evening. Claude achieved a near perfect depiction of this atmosphere in the Birmingham picture : instead of the brilliant sunshine of the St Ursula there is a soft glow, in which the artist produces an almost milky light. He manages to capture atmosphere not by blurring the edges of each object depicted but by juxtaposing infinitesimal gradations of tone without losing the slightest detail. In all Claude's mature landscapes, and signally in this one, there is a sense of infinite distance in which the spectator can wander at will.

The painting is included in Liber Veritatis (LV 90).

This painting was in the hands of various London dealers and collectors in the years immediately before its sale to Lord Ashburnham in 1760. It played a major role in Richard Wilson’s transformation of British landscape painting by providing the model for Holt Bridge on the River Dee, which was Wilson’s daring exercise in an intellectual conceit known as an “imitation,” hitherto largely confined to eighteenth-century literature. Imitation of this kind interpreted the present in the light of the past, with reference to a specific, older work of art. The bridge that is the chief feature of Claude’s painting, the Ponte Molle, took the Via Flaminia across the river Tiber into Rome and was a key site for Wilson from his earliest days in the city.