Object Image

Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba

This painting depicts an episode from the Old Testament: the Queen of Sheba embarking on her journey to see King Solomon in Jerusalem. Crowned and dressed in red, the Queen descends the steps. The meeting was often painted, but it was unusual to depict the Queen's embarkation. The soft warm light of sunrise typical of Claude's idealised seascapes captures the gentle ripples of the water, undersides of the clouds and foliage, and silhouettes of the boats. The classical buildings on either side create a symmetrical and balanced scene, and reflect the many years Claude spent working in Rome.

The name of the man who commissioned the painting, the Duc de Bouillon (1605-1652), is inscribed on the last step in the bottom right corner, showing his interest in the subject. The round tower on the right was his principal emblem.

The picture was painted in 1648, along with its pair, Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. These were among the first works to be bought for the National Gallery in 1824, from the prestigious collection of John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823).

Two paintings by Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, are known as the 'Bouillon Claudes' because they were made for Frédéric-Maurice, Duc de Bouillon (1605-1652), a French general in the papal army in Rome. They were completed in 1648 and remained in the Bouillon family throughout the eighteenth century. They even escaped seizure during the French Revolution, despite Bouillon's successor being imprisoned in 1794 and his property confiscated.

Although documents survive to tell us these paintings were commissioned as a pair, the scenes belong to different biblical stories. They are, however, harmonious in the subjects they depict. Each explores the relationship between men and women, whether during a wedding celebration or because of a journey that brings friendship. There is a contrast between the bustling urban seaport and the peaceful countryside. The central activity of each painting is framed by either buildings or trees, with the sea or a substantial river in the background.

Credit: Bought, 1824

1648
Oil on canvas
149.1 x 196.7cm
NG14
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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National Gallery