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Claude Lorrain (about 1604/5-82)
Claude Gellée was born in Chamagne, a village south of Nancy in what was then the independent Duchy of Lorraine, hence his assumed name. He arrived in Rome, possibly as early as 1617, where he was based until his death. Claude specialized in landscape paintings and he became the leading landscape artist in Italy. His paintings and their preparatory drawings are characterized by their depiction of an ideal and classically-inspired world, with figures and stories playing a minor role compared with nature.
The British Museum's Claude drawings total about 500, 195 of which are to be found in the Liber Veritas ('Book of Truth') in which Claude recorded each of his major paintings, to prevent forgery and imitation by other artists. Claude also made sketches outdoors, capturing the light and shade with pen or brush and ink. He drew the countryside around Rome so that his finished sketches and paintings, painted in his studio, are based on an accurate study of nature.
The composition of Claude's landscapes; their stage-like settings with trees which act as repoussoirs (props which lead us into the scene), came to be the standard example from which to study landscape in centuries to follow. After his death, and especially in the eighteenth century, his landscape paintings and drawings were much admired and collected by English patrons. One of the earliest collectors of Claude's drawings was Richard Payne Knight, who bequeathed them to The British Museum.
Among his patrons were Popes Urban VIII and Clement IX, Philip IV, the Spanish king, foreign ambassadors, and leading Roman families.