ASCANIUS SHOOTING THE STAG OF SYLVIA

A poetic royal hunt leads to war 

The painter, draftsman and printmaker Claude Gellée (c.1604/5–1682) was born in the duchy of Lorraine and is better known as Claude Lorrain or simply Claude. This poetic landscape is his last painting. The subject is derived from Virgil’s Aeneid which describes Ascanius, the son of the Trojan hero Aeneas, hunting in the countryside of Latium with his companions. Unknowingly he is the instrument of the Fury Allecto who has been sent by the goddess Juno to provoke war. Allecto alerts the hunting dogs to the presence of the regal stag that has come to take refreshment in the cool river. The stag is the tame pet of Silvia, the daughter of Tyrrheus, ranger to the king of the Latins. Ascanius mortally wounds the stag, setting in motion a train of events that lead to war.

The monstrous Fury is not shown, but the wind bending the trees on the left and the impending storm seen in the scudding clouds evoke his malign intervention. Claude depicts the last moment between peace and war, as the arc of the arrow cuts through the air. The harmoniously composed landscape, unfolding into the distant mountains, is based on Claude’s intense study of nature that he made in the Roman Campagna earlier in his career.

The Landscape with Ascanius was painted for Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, an important collector who was one of Claude’s great patrons. His family claimed descent from Aeneas, and the name Colonna (‘column’) is conjured up by the elegant Corinthian columns on the left.

Claude Lorrain (c.1604/5–1682)
Landscape with Ascanius shooting the Stag of Sylvia
1681–1682
Oil on canvas
120 x 150 cm
Presented by Mrs W.F.R. Weldon, 1926
WA1926.1

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