Ancient history, biblical history

The growing classicism of Claude’s landscapes was highly popular among the Roman aristocrats and cardinals who were his main clients at this time. Cardinal Giori, chamberlain to Pope Urban VII, commissioned the two large paintings shown in the exhibition, Landscape with Samuel Anointing David and Cleopatra Disembarking at Tarsus. As often with Claude, the pair of paintings is related through a series of oppositions: a view of a port at sunrise is contrasted with a landscape in full daylight; an event from ancient history is contrasted with a biblical tale, etc.
The importance of the figures in historical paintings is reflected in the studies Claude did for them, as seen in Samuel Anointing David and The Sermon on the Mount. During his lifetime Claude was criticized for his alleged weakness in rendering the human figure—his biographers recorded Claude’s quip that “he sold his landscapes but the figures were gratis.” Nevertheless, the balance between landscape and figures was always carefully calculated.