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Work Landscape with Diana and Callisto

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Landscape with Diana and Callisto

© 2005 RMN / Gérard Blot

Paintings
Flemish painting

Author(s):
Collange Adeline

The Italianate but rather clumsy figures are definitely by Bril and not, as was long thought, the work of an Italian painter. Here Bril is imitating Annibale Carracci and Domenichino.

The wrath of Diana

As Ovid delightfully describes in The Metamorphoses, Diana and her companions have put down their bows and quivers to rest in the cool woodland shade. As the nymphs prepare to bathe in the clear water, one of them, Callisto, refuses to take off her robe. Callisto, seduced by Jupiter, who appeared to her disguised as Diana, is desperately trying to hide the disgrace of her swollen stomach. Paul Bril depicts the goddess of the hunt discovering Callisto's misfortune and the other nymphs angrily pulling her clothes off her. With an accusatory gesture, Diana, identified by the crescent moon, banishes the nymph for having lost her virginity. The nymphs' highly theatrical gestures and colorful garments lead the eye across the canvas to explain the drama being played out.

Midway between Italy and Flanders

Bril's skilfully organized landscape plays on alternating dark and light areas to create depth. He also uses atmospheric perspective, a technique perfected in the 15th century which consists in using lighter and cooler colors towards the horizon. He drew on his Antwerp training to achieve this superb representation of nature, brilliantly playing on the bluish transparency of the water and air, nuances of ochre and brown, and the greens of the rustling vegetation. Yet his painting underwent profound changes after he settled in Italy in 1582. He gravitated from a quasi-fantastic mannerism towards a much more composed style in which figures are perfectly integrated into the landscape. This new spirit is very similar to the classicism of the Carracci and of Domenichino, with whom Bril worked on a number of decorative projects. It was thought that the feminine figures, very Italianate despite their clumsiness, were painted by an Italian painter, but they are definitely the work of Bril.

A crucial stage in the evolution of landscape painting

This painting was undoubtedly part of a decorative cycle illustrating the story of Diana (possibly for the Diana Room in the Palazzo Giustiniani at Bassano di Sustri), a type of mythological ensemble very popular with the great patrons. Paul Bril's oeuvre, a combination of Flemish taste and the Roman spirit of synthesis, marks a crucial stage in the evolution of landscape painting. He was ranked among the greatest landscape painters of his day and his pictures, famous throughout Europe, influenced a great many painters, including Albani, Rubens, Claude Lorraine and Poussin.

Bibliography

Whitfield Clovis, Les Paysages du Dominiquin et de Viola, Fondation Eugène Piot, Monuments et mémoire, tome 69, 1988, p.114-116.

Technical description

  • Paul BrilAntwerp, 1554 - Rome, 1626

    Landscape with Diana and Callisto

    1615-1620

    Collection of Louis XIV

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.61 m; W. 2.06 m

  • Gift of Cardinal Fabrizio Spada, 1674

    INV. 207

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Flanders, late 16th century
    Room 15

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