Oh, that exotic locale to which a painter transports us! And while transporting us there, he often makes us time-travel; this is how we end up in a place either far away or a long time ago, or both long ago and far away; and the farther we move in space and time, the easier it gets to suspend the weight of reality. The XVII century classicist painters — Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Pierre Patel, were the first to apply these insights to landscape, their pastoral sites always showing an improvement over nature — a window not into reality, but a sentimental fantasy.
The most obvious difference between the three is in the treatment of human figure: where Lorrain and Poussin cling to anecdote, Patel drops the story but keeps the human efflorescence to stay bucolic. As the illustrators of story, Poussin and Lorrain show variant commitment to realism: Poussin faithfully dresses Diogenes in toga, while a relatively convincing version of Greek polis shows in the background; Lorrain makes Ulysses wear something like Renaissance clothes, with ships and buildings providing already the XVII century context.
The intention in all three is the same, to tempt the eye with the view. The figures in the foreground are either a detail or pretext; otherwise, for Lorrain and Poussin we could claim that the narrative is better understood when we peer pensively into distance; whereas for Patel distance has the value of its own. Not surprisingly, Pierre Patel is the painter responsible for those famous bird-eye views of Chateau Versailles where humans no longer clatter the landscape.
The above paintings can be found in the XVII century French Paintings section of the Louvre.
1. Pierre Patel, “Paysage avec ruines et pasteur”.
2. Nicolas Poussin, “Diogène jetant son écuelle”.
3. Claud Lorrain, “Ulysse remet Chriséis à son père”.