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Roman Landscape at Sunset
Vernet, Claude-Joseph
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Vernet, Claude-Joseph

Avignon (France), 1714 - Paris (France), 1789

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Roman Landscape at Sunset

1781 - 1782. Oil on canvas.
Room 087

Claude Joseph Vernet, the most renowned eighteenth-century French landscape painter and veduttista (view painter), was known for his landscapes, seascapes, and views of Rome and Naples. Characterised by dramatic or poetic representations of storms and other atmospheric phenomena at different times of day, these works were enlivened by scenes from everyday life.

Based in Rome between 1734 and 1752, Vernet worked for English and Irish collectors travelling through Italy. In 1742 he was named an academician at the Accademia di San Luca, and two years later he received the same honour from the French Academy in Rome. In 1752 he received a prestigious commission from King Louis XV to paint a series of views of French ports. This commission was probably supported by the Marquis de Marigny, the Marquise de Pompadour’s brother, who had visited Rome in 1750. The resulting masterpieces brought Vernet international patronage. In Paris, where he lived from 1762 until his death, his fame grew after he was appointed advisor to the Académie Royale in 1766 and after the publication of Denis Diderot’s critical writing about the salons. In those texts the renowned author and philosopher praised the realism of Vernet’s landscapes, which he considered superior to those of one of that artist’s main influences: Claude Lorrain.

Roman landscape at sunset, 1781-82, capriciously combines buildings from ancient Rome -the emblematic pyramid of Caius Cestius and a fanciful triumphal arch with three openings that appears in the background- at the end of a Roman road staffed by small figures. A pilgrim rests and smokes in the foreground, while a group of villagers takes water from a spring behind him. Two of the villagers gaze up at a leafy tree that represents nature’s conquest of monuments. It also alludes to passing time, as does the smoke from the pilgrim’s pipe. The reddish sunlight is reflected in some of the clouds, while other darker ones announce a coming storm.

This work was one of six landscapes of different subjects, such as storms or fire, commissioned from Vernet in the spring of 1781 by Charles, Prince of Asturias. The future King Charles IV of Spain ordered them for a cabinet at the Casita del Príncipe in the Royal Seat at El Escorial, Madrid, where they arrived in January 1783. All six were the same height, but they differed in width. According to the artist’s diary published by Léon Lagrange, the Spanish prince agreed to wait eighteen months for these works, for which he paid the considerable sum of 40,000 livres. That was the most Vernet tended to charge for works with dimensions that exceeded those of what was known as the emperor canvas (100.7 x 127.9 cm). Significantly, besides the works’ exact dimensions, Vernet was required to place the horizon line at exactly the same height in all of them: un pied 7 pouce (one foot, 7 inches, corresponding to 51.47 cm). This unified perspective allowed viewers to enjoy, from a specific place in the cabinet, the sublime combined effect of these landscapes and their contrasting characters.

The group was removed during Spain’s War of Independence (1808-14) at the behest of Joseph Bonaparte, the intruder king. As a result, three works are now at the Museo del Prado, while others were exported from Spain by Bonaparte in 1813, like that which now is in the private collection of the Duke of Wellington in London. The actual location of the two remaining paintings in the series is unknown (Maurer, G.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 248).

Technical data

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Oil on canvas, 1781 - 1782
Vernet, Claude-Joseph
Inventory number
Vernet, Claude-Joseph
Roman Landscape at Sunset
1781 - 1782
Height: 155 cm; Width: 57 cm
Royal Collection (Príncipe de Asturias Collection, Casita del Príncipe, El Escorial, h. 1791-1800, nº 218; Palacio Real, Madrid, dormitorio de príncipes-pieza sexta, 1814-1818, nº 218).

Bibliography +

Lagrange, Léon, Joseph Vernet et la peinture au XVIII siècle., Librarie Académique, Didier et Cº, Paris, 1864, pp. 355,371 y ss, 416 y ss, 419.

Ingersoll-Smouse, Florence, Joseph Vernet, peintre de marine 1714-1789. Étude critique suivie d'un catalogue raisonné de son oeuvre peint, avec trois cent cinquante-sept reproductions., II, Étienne Bignon, Paris, 1926, pp. 35, n.1082-1087.

Zarco Cuevas, Julian, Cuadros reunidos por Carlos IV, siendo Príncipe, en su Casa de campo de El Escorial., Imprenta del Monasterio, El Escorial, 1934, pp. 38, n.335-340.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 752.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds Mercator Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 556.

Luna, Juan José, Pintura europea del siglo XVIII: guía, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1997, pp. 120-121.

Maurer, G, Claude Joseph Vernet 'Roman landscape at sunset' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 248.

Cruz Yábar, María Teresa, Noticias sobre ocho mesas del Real Laboratorio de Piedras Duras en el Museo del Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXIV (52), 2016, pp. 32-49 [45].

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1045.
Vernet (Jose) / 1045. Pais; efecto de sol poniente. / Ruinas piramides; en primer termino varias figuras llevandose agua de una fuente. / Alto 5 pies, 6 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 2 pies, 1 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 1045.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 2077.
2077.-(1045-I.)-País con puesta de sol.- A la izquierda un árbol; á la derecha, en lontananza, una pirámide.-Compañero del anterior.-Cuadro de decoracion. / Alto 1,55; ancho 0,58.-L.

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 218.
Dormitorio de Principes [...] Pieza Sexta [...] {21726-21728} 218 / Dos varas y media alto tres cuartas ancho 0 una montaña con cascada y varios pescadores = una fuente con varias figuras = unos muchachos con un cometa este mas angosto que los dos primeros = El Benet

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Location +

Room 087 (On Display)

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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