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Claude Lorrain (1641).  Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula. Oil 
On canvas, National Gallery, London. 

St. Ursula, a British princess (in yellow), who refuses to marry a pagan king, holds the flag with her emblem.  She is returning to Cologne from Rome-a replica of Bramante’s Tempietto in the left foreground suggests she is embarking from the eternal city-with her 11,000 companions who hold bows and arrows, the sign of their coming martyrdom. For her part, Ursula will be shot through the heart by her enraged fiancé. Although the legend of Ursula is not official Christian doctrine, 11,000 virgins embarking on a journey in front of a dreamy landscape made for a fantastical subject for 17th century Romantic artists. Note the golden sunrise in the distance which projects a soft glow throughout the composition. The ships whose silhouettes block the sun, suggest travel to distance lands full of adventure and suspense. Paintings like Ursula, with their glowing light and fantastic architectural renderings, are precursors to the Picturesque movement, a romantic art movement that acted to balance the more rational Age of Enlightenment. The idea of creating a mood using natural light is a feature common to the Picturesque, a Romantic art movement in which artists and landscapers delighted in the rawness of nature-unspoiled, beautiful, majestic, forbidding and wild. Within a century of Lorrain’s painting, landscape art and architecture will become a popular subject in English and American art and architecture.

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Detail, Ursula in yellow.

Claude Lorrain is famous for his ability to paint natural light-fading, emerging, brilliant, and romantic. He became so well known for this “stroke of genius”, that “Claude” glass, a treated mirror contained in a box, became wildly popular as a portable drawing and painting aid in the later 18th century by amateur artists on sketching tours. The reflections in it of surrounding scenery were supposed to resemble some of the characteristics of Italian landscapes made famous by his capable hands (V&A Museum, collections).

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Claude glass, collection: V&A Museum, London. c. 1775-1780.
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Detailed painting of a woman holding a Claude glass. Claude glasses defused the light in the landscape, making for a soft yellow or pink glow, depending on the color of the glass. This colored glass enabled the artist to paint the subject more easily as the defused light softened details that could be more remissly read by the artist. The term “see the road through rose colored glasses originates from the popularity of Claude glasses.

The picturesque subject has inspired artists for centuries. For my own example, I visited Broughton Castle in North Oxfordshire, England. Using the photograph of the gardens shown here, I created one of my first picturesque inspired paintings, which I titled Courtyard Garden, in 2008.

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Broughton Castle, North Oxfordshire, England.
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My painting, Courtyard Garden, inspired by my journey to England to visit picturesque art and architecture. 30 x 26 inches. Private collection. Limited edition prints available

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