Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1773, oil on canvas
89 cm x 133 cm
National Museum of Western Art, Japan
Though born in Avignon, France, Joseph Vernet had a penchant for the Roman countryside, a subject he studied in depth when he located to Rome at twenty years old. There, he established his reputation as a popular and gifted seascape and landscape painter, whose topographic studies were famous for their aesthetic beauty, grand size, and unique depiction of nature’s tonal, atmospheric, and lighting effects. However, despite his naturalistic style, Vernet’s landscapes were largely decorative in execution. Vernet’s concern was not with aesthetic realism, but rather with making a landscape dynamic, sensationalized, and romanticized.
Vernet’s Summer Landscape in Italy is part of a series depicting a single fictitious Italian landscape over multiple hours of a day, an artistic landscape tradition that dates back to the early seventeenth century. Not unlike Rembrandt, Vernet populates his scene with various human vignettes, such as the riverside bathers shown here. Their intentionally small size emphasizes the grandeur of the proximate nature. Vernet’s landscape, imbued with twilight luminosity, illustrates the most pure form of Italy’s ideal countryside. His subject, ironically, isn’t the Italian landscape in actuality; it’s the idea of it, its romantic and idyllic elements and all.