36.5 x 62.5 cm (framed 57 X 82.5 cm)
Provenance: bought in Rome by Mr Mangin, a French civil servant posted in Rome (number 39 of his sale)
Here Gaspard Dughet offers us an idyllic vision of the Roman countryside. The stages follow one another in a perfectly structured composition, revealing here a lake, there travellers walking along, gradually leading our eye to the blue horizon. But behind its classical composition, this landscape is particularly interesting because of three anthropomorphic details that the artist has hidden, opening the way to a radically different interpretation...
1. Gaspard Dughet, a landscape artist in the light of Poussin
Gaspard Dughet was born on June 4th, 1615 in Rome where his father, of French origin, was a pastry cook. He was probably named Gaspard in honour of his godfather Baron Gaspard de Morant, who was, or may have been, his father's employer. His older sister Jeanne married the painter Nicolas Poussin (1594 - 1655) on September 1st, 1630. The young Gaspard was apprenticed with his brother-in-law at the beginning of 1631, which led his entourage to name him Gaspard Poussin. The first preserved works of the painter date from the years 1633-1634 and were painted in Poussin’s studio.
Around 1635, Gaspard Dughet became emancipated and began to frequent the Bamboccianti circle. In 1636, he became friends with the painter Jean Miel (1599 - 1656), but also with Pier Francesco Mola (1612 - 1666) and Pietro da Cortona (1596 - 1669).
This was also the time of his first trips throughout Italy. The painter, although of French origin, appears never to have visited France. In 1646 he settled permanently in Rome. A recognized painter with a solid book of orders, he remained faithful to landscape painting throughout his life, alternating between cabinet paintings and large decorative commissions, using both oil and fresco.
Nailed to his bed by rheumatic fever at the age of 58, he died on May 25, 1675.
2. Discovering an idealized landscape
Beyond a relatively dark foreground that takes us into the landscape, we discover a vast bluish horizon: a plateau surrounded by deep ravines advances to the right, overhanging an expanse of water that sparkles below. A road winds through a mountainous mass as if leading us to the fortress that crowns it; another town appears in the distance at the foot of three conical mountains.
The composition is rigorous, mineral, and structured by geometric volumes. The various stages in the landscape lead one to the next attracting the eye towards the horizon located in the middle of the canvas. The general impression is that of a welcoming and serene nature.
In many places the paint layer has shrunk, or become transparent, revealing the dark red preparation with which the canvas was covered and accentuating the contrasts.
Human presence is limited to three jack players, leaning against a mound in the foreground. Their long garments, which may evoke Roman togas, contribute to the timelessness of the scene.
Close examination of the canvas reveals two other travellers on the path winding between the rocks. Made tiny by the distance, their introduction in the middle register, typical of Dughet's art, lengthens the perspective.
While it is difficult to date the work of a painter who devoted his entire life to the representation of landscapes, it is certain that this painting is a work from his later years. The trees that occupied the foreground of his youthful compositions have been relegated to the sides, a stretch of water separates us from the arid mountains counterbalanced by two trees represented on the opposite bank. The introduction of this stretch of water in the middle of the landscape betrays the influence of the Bolognese and in particular of the Dominiquin (1581 - 1641)
A number of similarities with a drawing in the British Museum might suggest a date around 1656-1657, since, according to Marie-Nicole Boisclair , it has been compared with the Prado's Landscape with the Repentant Magdalene, painted at that period.
3. Three amazing anthropomorphic details
While some late Renaissance landscapes offer a radical double reading, allowing one to see both a face or a human body behind the representation of a landscape, it seems interesting to us to hypothesize that Gaspard Dughet had fun here by slipping in a few details that, taken in isolation, evoke human or animal figures.
We will give three examples, looking closely at a cloud, the trunk of a broken tree and the top of a cliff.
The main cloud could thus evoke a Christ-like face or that of an antique god, such as Jupiter, bearded and debonair. The broken trunk on the right (presented here after a 90 degree turn to the left) seems to evoke a caricature of an old man, an infernal character, with a beard cut into a point. And we can finally wonder about a possible dog's head on the cliff at the foot of which the path winds.
These elements seem to have been introduced by the painter to spice up the viewer's curiosity and to encourage discussion in an amateur's cabinet.
However, we would like to suggest another hypothesis, which would give the painting the global symbolism of meditation on the meaning of life. The three jack players in the centre of the painting could symbolise the hazards of life, through youth (the figure in the centre), middle age (on the right) and old age (on the left). While the bulge in the stones on the far left evokes some funerary urn, and therefore death, the caricatured figure hidden in the tree introduces an infernal face. But the two figures at the foot of the mountain indicate that a passage to the other side is possible. The expanse of water in the middle of the painting could be the Styx or the Acheron, the river that one will have to cross after death. The two figures are on a journey whose destination is still unknown, hidden by high mountains. The dog-shaped cliff can be viewed as a symbolic guardian of this invisible Eden towards which they are heading, under the gaze of a benevolent God who dominates the composition.
The painting is presented in an early nineteenth century Italian neo-classical frame in which it was probably purchased by a French official based in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century (according to a very faded label on the back of the frame).
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