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A River Landscape with Jacob and Laban and his Daughters

Claude Lorrain (Champagne 1600 – Rome 1682)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1654 (signed and dated)

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

1435 x 2514 mm (56 1/2 x 99 in)

Place of origin

Rome

Order this image

Collection

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex

NT 486253

Caption

When Jacob went to work for his uncle, Laban, the latter agreed to reward him after seven years with the hand of his youngest daughter, Rachel. When the time came, the elder daughter, Leah, was surreptitiously substituted in the marriage-bed, and Jacob had to serve a further seven years for Rachel too. This biblical episode was not often painted, save by Claude, for whom the choice between the two women seems to have had some particular significance. Painted for Carlo Cardelli in Rome, but auctioned in London in 1686, this was one of the first of the wealth of Claudes to enter British collections.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, A River Landscape with Jacob and Laban and his Daughters by Claude Lorrain (Champagne 1600 – Rome 1682), signed bottom right: CL/AUDIO/ROMA 1654 (?). A landscape depicting a scene from Genesis (xxix, v.16-20). The broad landscape shows a wide valley stretching to mountains in the distance at centre; a town with a castle is in the right mid-distance and trees at right centre background with two herdsmen with cattle beneath them. Across the centre to left, is a bridge of seven arches, spanning a river which flows to the left foreground behind a large oak, before which are sheep with Jacob; Laban and his daughters are nearer the centre.

Full description

"And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter ... And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her." . But - as so often in the Old Testament - Jacob was made the victim of a trick: Leah was surreptitiously substituted by Laban for Rachel in the marriage-bed, on the grounds that it was not the custom of the country for the younger daughter to be married before the first-born; and Jacob had to serve another seven years before he could marry Rachel too. Familiar though the Bible story is, depictions of it are curiously rare. Claude is not only one of the first artists to have painted it, he is almost the only major artist to have done so in the seventeenth century , yet he did so on at least three occasions: in this picture; in one - a reduced variant of the core elements of this - of 1659 (Liber Veritatis, no.147), painted for a Mr. Delamart, and now in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; and in a late work of 1676 (LV, no.188) done for Franz, Freiherr von Mayer of Regensburg, and now in the Dulwich College Art Gallery. What is more, Claude made an exceptional pen-and-wash drawing on parchment of the figure group in the present picture (Wildenstein Collection). All this suggests that the subject had a particular resonance for Claude, but the source of that resonance resounded with is less easy to establish. It has been suggested, à propos the Dulwich version of the subject, that Leah and Rachel were seen as personifications of the active and the contemplative life, respectively, and that Jacob's choice of Rachel was seen as prefiguring Christ's selection of Mary . That may indeed have been the case in medieval hermeneutics, but it is scarcely applicable to this Claude. For one thing, the two women are presented as if vying with one another in the attempt to dazzle Jacob with their charms, rather than as embodiments of different ways of life, as Mary and Martha were. In some ways, indeed, the figures appear almost to be enacting a biblical variant of the Judgement of Paris, with a choice between two women rather than three, but with the chooser again being a shepherd. Intriguingly, on the one occasion on which Claude painted the much commoner subject, that of Jacob at the Well (Hermitage, St. Petersburg; LV, no.169) in 1667, along with Jacob wrestling with the Angel (1672; ibid.; LV, no.181), as one of two pairs of pictures done for Henri van Halmale, Dean of Antwerp Cathedral, he introduced Leah into it, with no sanction from the Bible, and he eliminated any other shepherds from the scene, in defiance of the Bible story, so as to reduce the scene to these three figures, with Jacob again seeming to contemplate the respective charms of the two sisters. This cavalier approach to the Bible in the Hermitage picture was in spite of the commission for it having come from a dignitary of the church; whilst it is clear from the letter that Claude wrote accompanying two preliminary drawings of the composition that the choice of subject was his own . It is outdone, however, by the painting known as 'The Mill' in the National Gallery (1648; LV, no.113), onto which, after the picture had been completed for the duc de Bouillon instead of its original commissioner, Cardinal Camillo Pamphilj, Claude painted an inscription quite arbitrarily identifying it as an episode in the life of Jacob's father, the Marriage of Isaac with Rebecca, which is not described in the Bible at all. The significance of this once again eludes us. Claude's intentions in his choice of the subjects of almost all of these pictures are obscured yet further by the fact that, with each, there is little or no apparent thematic link with the subject of its pendant. In the case of the present picture, that was the Landscape with the Worship of the Golden Calf (1653; LV, no.129; Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe). To say, as has recently been done, that the link is constituted by the contrast between the faithlessness of the Jews to God, and the faithfulness with which Jacob carries out his bargain with Laban (he had little choice, if he wished to win Rachel's hand!), smacks of some of the more preposterous savings by Claude Levi-Strauss of his binary hypothesis. It might have been truer to say that the parallel was with the failure of Laban to keep faith, save that there would then have been a pointless prolepsis in showing the beginning rather than the dénouement of the story. For the moment - and perhaps for ever - we must simply confess our ignorance. Whilst it is a healthy development to have focused attention upon the subject-matter of Claude's paintings and drawings, and on the inscriptions that sometimes point this up, it is dangerous to attempt exegesis by referring to extraneous traditions of interpretation. All that it seems possible to say with certainty is that, for Claude, the fact that a picture told a story, and how it told that story, were important; whereas it would appear that the choice of what story was told was almost aleatory. The Jacob and Laban and Worship of the Golden Calf were two of three pictures recorded in the Liber Veritatis as having been commissioned by the Roman patrician Carlo Cardelli (1626-62), though we know that he also owned two "smaller pictures with woods and three animals" that are not recorded there . The third was a little painting on copper, of a Coast Scene with the embarkation of St. Paul for Rome (1655; LV, no.132; Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery). Cardelli was a considerable collector - 145 pictures were listed in his posthumous inventory - with a fondness for landscape in particular. In addition to the landscapes and marines in his collection, he got Dughet to fresco some since-vanished rooms in his palace on what is now the Piazza Cardelli, and a fountain-niche with a statue of Apollo in the internal courtyard; and another team of artists to paint landscapes with mythological pretexts on the piano nobile . Cardelli's heirs seem, however, to have had little interest in preserving the collection, and all three Claudes (very possibly with other pictures from it) were imported into England by intriguing syndicate, apparently consisting of Sir Robert Gayer (at the Italian end), Grinling Gibbons, and Parry Walton, for what would have been one of the first-known auctions exclusively of pictures (bar six ivory reliefs by Bossuit) to be held in this country, at the Banqueting-House at Whitehall, on Tuesday, 11th May 1686. The auction, or "sale by way of public out-cry", was advertised, and a catalogue printed, but for some reason - very possibly the opposition of the upholsterers, in whose hands auctions then lay - did not take place, , but was converted into an ordinary sale "out of hand". These Claudes may have been the first paintings by the artist to have been imported into England since the only two that the Liber Veritatis (nos. 77 & 78) records as having been specifically painted "per Angleterre': the Landscape with Narcissus and Echo (National Gallery, London) and the Pastoral Landscape (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), of 1644. Sir Robert Gayer, KB (c.1636-1702), whose name was inscribed against no.67 (a version of which is, by coincidence, also at Petworth) in the index to the Liver Veritatis compiled by Claude's heirs, and by a later hand on the back of the Liber Veritatis drawings of this picture and no. 67 - the only Englishman's name so to appear (but in none of the three cases as Sir Robert, despite having been dubbed a Knight of the Bath in 1661) - is an intriguing figure, who deserves further investigation. One of the sons of a former Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Gayer (d.1649), who instituted the so-called 'Lion Sermon', he seems to have become an early marchand-amateur, trafficking between England and Italy. A strong supporter of the Stuarts, he became a Jacobite, and was forced to flee to Italy after the discovery of the Duke of Berwick's plot in 1696. His association with Grinling Gibbons and Parry Walton in the Banqueting House sale is a hypothesis, but the two latter must have had an agent in Italy who obtained the pictures, and he is known to have owned two Grinling Gibbons carvings, and to have been associated with St. James's Piccadilly like the sculptor, as well as being the named owner of the present painting in the Liber Veritatis (it was presumably not thought necessary to put his name against all three former Cardelli acquisitions). The omission of the 'Sir' or a 'cavaliere' from it might suggest that he had acquired these pictures and LV no.67 in Claude's lifetime, but the facts that none of the mentions of his name is in the painter's hand, and that he had received his knighthood before Carlo Cardelli's death, rule this out. We know from Vertue's jottings from James Graham's notes of the Banqueting House sale that this picture and its pendant each fetched the - for those days remarkable - sum of £200; the one being bought by the 6th Duke of Somerset, and the other by a Mr. Huckle - possibly the James Huckle of "Upper Molesy in the County of Surry Gent", who was to marry Kneller's illegitimate daughter around 1706/7, or his father. This prompt division of the two pictures shows how little regard was paid to their pairing. Charles, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) who had married the Percy heiress, and had thus restored his family's fortunes and come into Petworth, was a considerable patron of contemporary artists, albeit chiefly of portrait-painters, or of those who could decorate his houses, such as Grinling Gibbons and Louis Laguerre. He was not a collector in the mould of his distinguished predecessor at Petworth, the 11th Duke of Northumberland, nor of his successors, the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Egremont. Nonetheless, not only did he make this spectacular purchase, he also had every intention of making another at the same inflated price: a purported Guercino of Lot and his daughters, in one of the sales held by Edward Le Davis in the 1690s. He did not go through with the deal, only because the auctioneer attempted to make him pay his bid of 200 guineas at the speculative height of 26 shillings to the guinea that the rate had risen to be the time that the picture was sent round to him, which he - not unreasonably - refused to do . The portrait-painter John Closterman (1660-1711), who had not only up until that time been painting portraits of the Duke and his family, but had acted as his adviser at this sale, bought the picture at the speculative rate, which so incensed the Duke that he ceased to employ him in any capacity thereafter. It may be that - irascible and obstinate as he was - it disenchanted him with the whole business of collecting Old Masters. Notes: (i) Genesis, ch. XXIX, vv. 16-20. (ii) Cf. A. Pigler, Barockthemen, 2nd edn., 1974, vol.I, p.67 -who, however, curiously omits all three Claudes. (iii) Cf. Humphrey Wine, in exh. cat. Claude: the poetic landscape, National Gallery, London, 1994, p.81. (iv) Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: the Drawings, University of California, 1968, nos. 962 & 963, vol.I, pp.357-8 & pls. in vol.II. (v) Exh.cat.cit., 1994, p.80, no.29. (vi) Cf. Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: the Paintings, New Haven & London, 1961, pp.312-3; exh. cat. Claude Lorrain, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1982-3, p.453. (vii) Marie-Nicole Boisclair, Gaspard Dughet, Paris, 1986, pp.54, 70 n.100, 145, 215 & 346. (viii) The sale was advertised in the London Gazette, no.2136, 6-0 May 1686; the only surviving copies of the catalogue are in the Bodleian Library, Oxford [Ashm. H 24 (140)] and the British Library [Bagford Collection: Harleian MSS. 5947, no.120]; John Woodward, 'aintings by Dolci and Claude for Birmingham', Apollo, vol.LXXVII, March 1963, pp.250-2. (ix) Vertue Notebooks, vol.V (1938), p.56. (x) Vertue Notebooks, vol.IV (1936), p.21. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)

Provenance

Acquired, with the Worship of the Golden Calf and a Sunrise [=Embarkation of St. Paul], in 1654 by Carlo Cardelli (1626 - 62); his posthumous inventory 26 Feb. 1663, as one of two Landscapes 12 palmi [long], with "a Moses led home by Rachel and daughters [sic!]; sold by his heirs to Sir Robert Gayer (c.1636 -1702) - ?acting in a syndicate with? - Grinling Gibbons & Parry Walton, by whom advertised for auction at the Banqueting House, Whitehall 11 May 1686; auction turned into 'sale out of hand', when bought by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662 -1748) for £200 and sent down to Petworth (see Vertue & Walpole); thence by descent through his daughter's son, Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont (1710 -63); recorded in the posthumous inventory of the chattels of Egremont House, Piccadilly, 5th -10th Dec. 1764, in the Red Damask Drawing Room, as "A Great Landscape by Claude Lorrain"; by the time of the next inventory, that taken by Thomas Phillips, Jr. in 1835, in the Square Dining Room at Petworth (no.321), where it remained until 1990, when removed to the Somerset Room); to John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield & 1st Lord Egremont (1920 -72); by whom handed over, with the major part of the collections at Petworth, in lieu of death duties to HM Treasury in 1956 by whom transmitted to the National Trust Painted in Rome in 1654 for Carlo Cardelli (1626-1662) and bought in London around 1686 for £200 by the 6th Duke of Somerset; thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HMTreasury.

Marks and inscriptions

CL(audio)ROMA 1654 (signed and dated bottom right, below the small standing herdsman - last digit of date indistinct)

Makers and roles

Claude Lorrain (Champagne 1600 – Rome 1682), artist

Exhibition history

In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.37

References

Lewis, 1937-1981: Walpole 1937-81 W.S.Lewis et al (ed.), The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence, New Havern, 1937-81, 42 vols., ix, p. 98 Vertue 1730 George Vertue, 'Notebooks I-VIII', Walpole Society, I xviii, 1930; II, xx,1932; III, xxii, 1934; IV, xxiv, 1936; xxvi, V,1938; xxix, 1947 index; VI, xxx, 1955 , vol. II, p. 81 Smith 1829-42 John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, 8 vols and supplement, London, 1829-42, viii, p. 264 Waagen 1854-7 Gustav Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols. (translated by Lady Eastlake) with a supplementary volume: Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854-7, iii, p. 33 Collins Baker 1920 C.H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures in the Possession of Lord Leconfield, 1920, no.329 & facing pl Röthlisberger 1961 Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorraine, The Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven, 1961 , i, pp. 312 - 13, 314 and 322 - 3 Röthlisberger 1975 Marcel Röthlisberger, L'Opera Completa di Claude Lorrain, Milan, 1975, no. 202 Kitson 1978 Michael Kitson, Claude Lorraine, Liber Veritatis: British Museum, 1978, pp. 135-6 (LV 134) Claude:The Poetic Landscape, National Gallery, London, 1994, Humphrey Wine in;pp.18, 81, & p.19 fig.5. Remastered - Bosch to Bellotto: An Exhibition of Petworth's European Old Masters (exh cat) (Andrew Loukes) Petworth House, West Sussex, 9 January - 6 March 2016, cat. 40, p. 19

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