Featuring more than 100 works, the exhibition Rome: Nature and the Ideal. Landscapes 1600-1650 is exhibited at the Museo del Prado after its showing at the Grand Palais in Paris. The exhibition project is one of the most ambitious to be undertaken by the Prado, which has worked closely with the Musée du Louvre. Works have been loaned from fifty different sources in order to offer the most important selection of landscape of this period to be exhibited to date. This important group of works analyzes the evolution of the genre from its first flowering to its maturity through figures of the stature of Velázquez, Claude Lorraine and Poussin.
Until the late 16th century, landscape was considered a minor artistic genre by art theoreticians and on certain occasions was treated as a speciality confined to the painters who had moved from northern Europe to Italy. Various different traditions co-existed in Rome, together constituting the most important trends within this genre in the 16th century, namely the archaeological landscapes of Polidoro da Caravaggio and Raphael and the more naturalistic, poetic canvases of Giorgione and Titian, whose works some of the great Roman collectors were proud to display.
It was Annibale Carracci who developed the prototype of the harmoniously structured landscape of a kind that came to be described as classical by the end of the 17th century. Carracci's example was developed by his Bolognese followers including Domenichino and Francesco Albani, who further enhanced the genre with literary references. In addition, Paul Bril formulated new typologies such as the marine landscape, genre scenes of fishermen and topographically accurate landscapes. As a result, Bril and other artists from Antwerp such as Jan Brueghel and Sebastian Vrancx updated the 16th-century Antwerp tradition of landscape through contact with the natural environment of Italy.
Another important factor in the development of the genre was the presence of the German painter Adam Elsheimer in Rome from 1610 to 1620. Elsheimer introduced small figures and other elements such as literary references into his landscapes, which have a dramatic tension normally associated with history painting. His enthusiasm for atmospheric effects and different types of light constituted an important precedent for the naturalist landscape painting of Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Cornelis van Poelenburgh and Filippo Napoletano, who in turn inspired artists such as Carlo Saraceni and Orazio Gentileschi, all present in the exhibition with key works from their respective oeuvres.
The two sections of the exhibition devoted to Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin are specially important. Both painters were the leading representatives of the genre and their works marked the transition of the landscape painting from a minor genre to a renowned painting endowed with features that defined its uniqueness. Alongside their works are paintings by other French artists such as Jean Lemaire, who rapidly became sought after on the art market for his views with classical ruins, and Gaspard Dughet, whose proto-romantic visions would be extremely influential for later landscape painters such as Courbet.
The two venues Rome. Nature and the Ideal is held (Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and the Museo del Prado) present an almost identical version of the exhibition with regard to its content, except for the drawings, which vary significantly for conservation reasons. The main difference in the Madrid version of the exhibition is the inclusion of a section that focuses on Philip IV's commission of a large series of landscapes for the decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. The project involved the participation of the leading artists resident in Rome between 1635 and 1640, whose influence would be crucial for the future development of the genre.
Nymph and Satyrs, Nicolas Poussin, Oil on canvas, 66,4 x 50,3 cm. 1627. London, The National Gallery, Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831