Jacob with Laban and his Daughters
Claude Lorrain (c.1605/5-82) is celebrated as one of the greatest of all landscape painters, creating compositions that were more beautiful and harmoniously organised than what could be seen in nature itself. As landscape painting was considered a less distinguished genre of art in the 17th century (than for example religious or historical painting), Claude often featured a biblical or mythological theme to lend more prestige to his work and allow for the expression of poetic ideas. This painting depicts the biblical story of Jacob who had promised to work as a shepherd for his uncle Laban for seven years in order to be given permission to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. Laban, however, tricked Jacob when his wedding finally arrived by disguising his elder daughter Leah as Rachel. Claude illustrates the moment where Laban demands another seven years' labour from Jacob before he can finally marry his beloved Rachel.
Despite the drama of the events unfolding, Claude evokes a landscape of natural harmony beneath a tranquil blue sky. The impression of an expansive vista is created by alternating shades of pale silvery blue, green, yellow and violet-grey that recede into the landscape. These horizontal bands of colour are contrasted with the vertical forms of the central tree, the round tower - and even the elongated forms of the central figures - providing stability to the composition. Claude invested meticulous care in building up his paint surfaces; he applied numerous very thin, semi-transparent layers of paint to vary the tones and colours continuously over the surface of his paintings, an approach that had the effect of creating an extraordinary sense of luminosity and atmosphere in his landscapes. Unfortunately Claude's techniques appear to have made his work particularly susceptible to a chemical deterioration known as blanching, which can be seen in the pale, milky appearance of this painting.