This is one of at least nine paintings that Claude created for Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, a great connoisseur and collector, between 1663 and 1682. The prince, whose family had its origins in the countryside outside of Rome, undoubtedly shared Claude’s pleasure in hilly sites such as Tivoli and Nemi, adorned with ancient temples, bridges, and other reminders of the Arcadian delights celebrated by Virgil in ancient times. Although the other works Claude painted for Colonna have mythological and literary subjects, the group of shepherds engaged in conversation in the Kimbell painting cannot be associated with any particular narrative.
This ideal landscape view from late in Claude’s career, when he often looked back to his earlier compositions, is pervaded by a sense of nostalgia. With its classical ruins and carefully calibrated landscape elements, it features many of the hallmarks for which he was celebrated and widely imitated. Claude developed the composition in a series of drawings in which he modulated tonalities and balanced proportions. The cool, blue green palette and the clear articulation of spatial intervals are characteristic of the artist’s late work.