Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Embarkation of St Paula Romana at Ostia

Claude Lorrain 1600-1682
Embarkation of St Paula Romana at Ostia
Oil on canvas, 211 x 145 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Claude Lorrain 1600-1682
Coast scene with the embarkation of St Paula, record of a painting in Paris, Louvre, No 318, from the Liber Veritatis
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash; on blue paper
197 millimetres x 257 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Claude Lorrain 1600-1682
Coast scene with the embarkation of St Paula, record of the painting in Madrid in the Liber Veritatis
Pen and brown ink and grey-brown wash, heightened with white, on blue paper
263 millimetres x 199 millimetres
The British Museum, London

This work was commissioned by Philip IV, King of Spain, for the decoration of one of the galleries in the Buen Retiro Palace

In the front there are two stone tablets with the following inscriptions: IMBARGO STA PAVLA ROMANA PER TERRA SANTA and PORTUS OSTIENSIS A (AVGVSTI) ET TRA (IANI).

Following her conversion, the noble Roman widow Saint Paula became a friend of Saint Jerome and with her daughter, St Eustochium embarked for the Holy Land, where she founded a convent.

Claude Gellée was born in the Duchy of Lorraine but left around 1612 for Germany, then Rome, where he became a studio assistant to the landscapist Agostino Tassi.

He sketched in the Roman countryside with Poussin.

Claude was influenced by other northern painters who had worked in Rome, such as Elsheimer. He was also influenced by the Bolognese artists Annibale Carracci and Domenichino, who evolved the balanced classical landscapes he used

The sketch-book of the Liber Veritatis, containing 195 drawings which Claude made as a record of his paintings, passed to his niece Agnese on his death. He was a popular artist during his lifetime. It was his safeguard against forgery and fraud.

The above painting is remarkably similar to a number of paintings involving either embarkation or arrival at a seaport: Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula; Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba from The Bouillon Claudes; Embarkation of St. Paul at Ostia; The Disembarkation of Cleopatra at Tarsus

All are seaports with landscape.

In Rome, not until the mid-17th century were landscapes deemed fit for serious painting.

John Constable described Claude Lorrain as "the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw", and declared that in Claude’s landscape "all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart"

Goethe said: "there are no landscapes in Nature like those of Claude"

St Jerome in one of his longest letters (Letter 108) written to console Eustochium for the loss of her mother who had recently died amongst other things relates the story of Paula in detail. The section regarding her leaving of Rome is below:

"5. When [her husband, Toxotius] died, her grief was so great that she nearly died herself: yet so completely did she then give herself to the service of the Lord, that it might have seemed that she had desired his death.

In what terms shall I speak of her distinguished, and noble, and formerly wealthy house; all the riches of which she spent upon the poor? How can I describe the great consideration she showed to all and her far reaching kindness even to those whom she had never seen? What poor man, as he lay dying, was not wrapped in blankets given by her? What bedridden person was not supported with money from her purse? She would seek out such with the greatest diligence throughout the city, and would think it a misfortune were any hungry or sick person to be supported by another's food. So lavish was her charity that she robbed her children; and, when her relatives remonstrated with her for doing so, she declared that she was leaving to them a better inheritance in the mercy of Christ.

6. Nor was she long able to endure the visits and crowded receptions, which her high position in the world and her exalted family entailed upon her. She received the homage paid to her sadly, and made all the speed she could to shun and to escape those who wished to pay her compliments. It so happened that at that time the bishops of the East and West had been summoned to Rome by letter from the emperors to deal with certain dissensions between the churches, and in this way she saw two most admirable men and Christian prelates, Paulinus bishop of Antioch and Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis or, as it is now called, Constantia, in Cyprus. Epiphanius, indeed, she received as her guest; and, although Paulinus was staying in another person's house, in the warmth of her heart she treated him as if he too were lodged with her.

Inflamed by their virtues she thought more and more each moment of forsaking her home. Disregarding her house, her children, her servants, her property, and in a word everything connected with the world, she was eager— alone and unaccompanied (if ever it could be said that she was so)— to go to the desert made famous by its Pauls and by its Antonies. And at last when the winter was over and the sea was open, and when the bishops were returning to their churches, she also sailed with them in her prayers and desires.

Not to prolong the story, she went down to Portus accompanied by her brother, her kinsfolk and above all her own children eager by their demonstrations of affection to overcome their loving mother. At last the sails were set and the strokes of the rowers carried the vessel into the deep. On the shore the little Toxotius [her son] stretched forth his hands in entreaty, while Rufina [her daughter] , now grown up, with silent sobs besought her mother to wait till she should be married. But still Paula's eyes were dry as she turned them heavenwards; and she overcame her love for her children by her love for God.

She knew herself no more as a mother, that she might approve herself a handmaid of Christ. Yet her heart was rent within her, and she wrestled with her grief, as though she were being forcibly separated from parts of herself. The greatness of the affection she had to overcome made all admire her victory the more. Among the cruel hardships which attend prisoners of war in the hands of their enemies, there is none severer than the separation of parents from their children. Though it is against the laws of nature, she endured this trial with unabated faith; nay more she sought it with a joyful heart: and overcoming her love for her children by her greater love for God, she concentrated herself quietly upon Eustochium alone, the partner alike of her vows and of her voyage. Meantime the vessel ploughed onwards and all her fellow-passengers looked back to the shore. But she turned away her eyes that she might not see what she could not behold without agony. No mother, it must be confessed, ever loved her children so dearly. Before setting out she gave them all that she had, disinheriting herself upon earth that she might find an inheritance in heaven."