The Trojan Women Setting Fire to Their Fleet

Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée) (French, Chamagne 1604/5?–1682 Rome)

ca. 1643
Oil on canvas
41 3/8 x 59 7/8 in. (105.1 x 152.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1955
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    The Trojan women set fire to their ships in an effort to end years of wandering after the fall of Troy. The clouds and rain in the distance presage the storm sent by Jupiter at Aeneas’s request to quench the blaze. Claude noted in his Liber Veritatis that the picture was painted in Rome for Girolamo Farnese. The learned prelate, who returned to the city in 1643, must have chosen this episode from Virgil’s Aeneid (V:604–95) to allude to his years of itinerant service as papal nuncio combating Calvinism in remote Alpine cantons of the Swiss Confederation.

  • Catalogue Entry

    This is the earliest of eight paintings, six of them late works, that Claude devoted to stories from Virgil's "Aeneid." The emphasis has shifted here from the natural environment that so often dominates his work to a mythological narrative—although sea, land, and sky set the stage. Events from different moments of the story ("Aeneid" V:604–710) are shown simultaneously. Sent by Juno, the goddess Iris (probably the figure carrying a torch to the right of center) is urging the Trojan women, tired from seven years of wandering after the fall of Troy, to set fire to their fleet and create a home in Sicily. The central group of ships is already in flames and the air filling with smoke, while the boats at the left are still unharmed. Another woman points toward the encampment on the shore where the men have just realized what is happening. The clouds over the fleet are the beginnings of a great storm sent by Jupiter, who is called on by Ascanius and Aeneas to quench the blaze.

    The picture is recorded as no. 71 in Claude's "Liber Veritatis." On the back of this drawing Claude has written "quadro faict per ill.re sig. / Gieronimo fanese / Claudio fecit in V.R." [picture made for Signor Girolamo Farnese by Claude in the City of Rome]. As Rothlisberger has noted [see Ref. 1960], most of Claude's mature and late pictures bear direct allusions to the lives of his patrons. This painting probably dates to about 1643, when Farnese returned to Rome after many years of itinerant service as papal nuncio, combating Calvinism in the Swiss Confederation; the subject must have been chosen by this learned prelate as a reference to his own years of wandering. Highly placed Romans frequently commissioned paintings with stories taken from the Aeneid since they saw themselves as descendants of Aeneas—Rome's founder according to the earliest legends.

    In his later works Claude showed a greater interest in historical accuracy. The richly sculpted ships have been modeled after similar vessels represented in engravings of Raphael and Giulio Romano, and the physiognomies of the women recall those in late paintings by these artists.

    Claude's art was an important influence on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape painting in England and such works as "The Trojan Women Setting Fire to Their Fleet," in a private collection in London by 1823, would have served as an inspiration to the English landscapist and marine painter Joseph Mallord William Turner.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower right, on rock): Cl[avdio?] / ROMA [reportedly; no longer legible]

  • Provenance

    Girolamo Farnese, Rome (about 1643–d. 1668); Lord Radstock, London (until 1823; sold to Robarts); Abraham Robarts, London (1823–60); the Robarts family, London (1860–1955; sold to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1955; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    London. British Institution. 1828, no. 50 (as "Trojan Women burning Ships," lent by Abraham Robarts).

    London. British Institution. 1852, no. 25 (as "Women setting fire to Ships," lent by A. W. Robarts).

    London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1877, no. 110 (as "Classical Subject," lent by A. J. Robarts).

    London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1891, no. 108 (as "Trojan Women Setting Fire to the Greek Ships," lent by A. J. Robarts).

    London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January 6–March 15, 1902, no. 59 (as "Trojan Women burning Greek Ships," lent by A. J. Robarts).

    London. Royal Academy of Arts. "French Art: 1200–1900," January 4–March 12, 1932, no. 150 (lent by John Robarts, London) [commemorative catalogue, 1933, no. 89].

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Splendid Century, French Art: 1600–1715," March 8–April 30, 1961, suppl. no. 179 (as "The Trojan Women Setting Fire to their Ships (?)").

    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 65).

    Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 49.

    Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 49.

    Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," August 15–November 15, 1979, no. 45.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections," May 26–August 22, 1982, not in catalogue.

    Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Claude Lorrain: 1600–1682," October 17, 1982–January 2, 1983, no. 30.

    Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Claude Gellée dit Le Lorrain: 1600–1682," February 15–May 16, 1983, no. 30.

    Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 25.

    Paris. Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. "Nature et idéal: le paysage à Rome, 1600–1650," March 9–June 6, 2011, no. 82.

    Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "Roma: Naturaleza e Ideal, Paisajes 1600–1650," July 5–September 25, 2011, no. 82.

  • References

    Liber Veritatis; or A Collection of Prints, After the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain . . . Executed by Richard Earlom . . . 1, Boydell ed. London, [1777], p. 16, no. 71, publishes Earlom's print after Claude's Liber Veritatis record of this painting (no. 71) and describes it as "The Trojan Women Firing the Grecian Fleet . . ."; notes that the picture was made for "Sig. Gieronimo Farnese" and provides subsequent provenance.

    John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. 8, London, 1837, p. 229, no. 71, as "The Trojan Women setting Fire to the Grecian Fleet".

    Léon de Laborde. "Notes manuscrites de Claude Gellé, dit Le Lorrain: Extraites du recueil de ses dessins." Archives de l'art français: Recueil de documents inédits relatifs à l'histoire des arts en France 1 (1851–52), p. 447, no. 71.

    [Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 163, describes this picture, then in the collection of Abraham Robarts, Hill Street, Berkeley Square, London.

    Mme Mark Pattison [Lady Dilke] J. Rouam. Claude Lorrain, sa vie et ses oeuvres d'après des documents inédits. Paris, 1884, pp. 213, 234, no. 71, identifies the subject as "Les Troyennes incendiant leurs vaisseaux" [The Trojan Women Setting Fire to their Fleet].

    Owen J. Dullea. Claude Gellée le Lorrain. London, 1887, p. 126, as "Trojan Women burning the Ships".

    William Gibson. "Mr. John Robarts' Collection of Pictures." Apollo 8 (September 1928), p. 119, ill. p. 115, as "The Trojan Women Setting Fire to the Greek Ships".

    Michael Kitson. "The 'Altieri Claudes' and Virgil." Burlington Magazine 102 (July 1960), p. 315, dates it 1643 and identifies the subject as "The Trojan Women burning their Ships," stating that it is Claude's first use of a subject from the Aeneid; notes that there is little doubt that Claude chose his Aeneid subjects himself, "though naturally in consultation with his patrons," probably because they fitted in with the "sublime and literary conception of landscape which he had evolved at the time".

    Marcel Rothlisberger. "New Light on Claude Lorrain." Connoisseur 145 (March–June 1960), pp. 60–61, describes the subject as "the Trojan women in the act of setting fire to their own fleet" and dates it 1643; claims that Girolamo Farnese, returning to Rome after his difficult years as nuncio in the Helvetian cantons and in Rhaetia, commissioned this picture, which tells of Aeneas' hardship during his travels.

    Marcel Röthlisberger. "The Subjects of Claude Lorrain's Paintings." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 55 (April 1960), p. 222.

    Theodore Rousseau Jr. The Splendid Century: French Art, 1600–1715. Exh. cat.Washington, 1960, supplement, p. 9, no. 179.

    Marcel Röthlisberger. Claude Lorrain: The Paintings. New Haven, 1961, vol. 1, pp. 215–16; vol. 2, fig. 144, notes that this is the only known representation of this scene, taken from Virgil's Aeneid (V, 604–95).

    Michael Kitson. "Claude Lorrain: The Paintings." Times Literary Supplement (May 31, 1963), p. ? [reprinted in Kitson, M. Studies on Claude and Poussin, London, 2000, p. 262].

    Georg Kauffmann. "Marcel Röthlisberger, 'Claude Lorrain, The Paintings; Vol. 1: Critical Catalogue'." Kunstchronik 9 (September 1964), p. 257, notes that this picture combines motives from Peruzzi and Raphael.

    Marcel Roethlisberger. Claude Lorrain: The Drawings. Berkeley, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 215–16, refers to it as "Coast View with the Trojan Women Setting Fire to their Fleet," done in 1643 for Girolamo Farnese; publishes Claude's record of this painting, Liber Veritatis no. 71 (cat. no. 527; vol. 2, pl. 527); defends his identification of Aeneid V as the source for the subject and observes that engravings after Raphael and Giulio Romano were models for the richly sculptured ships.

    Doretta Cecchi in L'opera completa di Claude Lorrain. Milan, 1975, p. 103, no. 135, ill. p. 102, colorpls. 12–13, dates it 1643.

    Michael Kitson. Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis. London, 1978, p. 96, publishes the related drawing Liber Veritatis 71 and comments on the rarity of the subject; notes that the drawing corresponds exactly to the painting except that the ships are enlarged and some masts and spars are shortened and omitted at the left.

    Pierre Rosenberg. France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1982, p. 360, no. 4, ill. [French ed., La peinture française du XVIIe siècle dans les collections américaines, Paris, 1982].

    H. Diane Russell. Claude Lorrain, 1600–1682. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1982, pp. 56, 86, 94 n. 29, pp. 147, 456–57, no. 30, ill. p. 146, comments on Claude's effort here to treat the scene with historical accuracy, noting the influence of prints by the school of Raphael; remarks that the physiognomies of the women strongly recall those in late paintings by Raphael and of his pupil Giulio Romano.

    Marcel Roethlisberger. Im Licht von Claude Lorrain: Landschaftsmalerei aus drei Jahrhunderten. Exh. cat., Haus der Kunst München. Munich, 1983, pp. 139, 286.

    Christopher Wright. The French Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Boston, 1985, p. 163, calls it "Marine with the Trojans Burning their Boats".

    Deborah Krohn et al. in From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1992, p. 307, no. 25, ill. (color) [catalogue section unpaginated].

    Patrizia Cavazzini in Nature et idéal: le paysage à Rome, 1600–1650. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2011, pp. 226–27, no. 82, ill. (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History