Diana, goddess of hunting, stands between the huntsman Cephalus and his wife Procris. Procris gives her husband a spear, carried here by an attendant, and a magic dog. The painting is loosely based on a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The title suggests that the pair are being reunited after a falling out caused by Procris’s jealousy, but Ovid does not mention Diana being at the reunion. Later in the story, Cephalus accidentally kills Procris with his spear. Perhaps Claude intended his painting to show an alternative happier ending, where Procris is brought back to life.
The composition is inspired by Claude’s trips to the countryside near Rome. Large trees in the centre, painted with precise brushstrokes, frame the figures. The warm, pink sky highlights the subtle green tones and the contrast between light and shade on the foliage and foreground landscape. The reflections of the herdsman and several animals in the pond’s surface are painted with meticulous attention to detail.
Many of Claude’s landscapes depict episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Latin poem of well-known stories and characters from Greek mythology. In this painting, Diana, goddess of hunting, carrying a bow and arrows, stands between the huntsman Cephalus and his wife Procris. Procris gives her husband a spear, carried here by an attendant, and a magic dog, which were given to her by Diana (book 7: 693–758). Claude has departed from Ovid’s narrative, which doesn't mention Diana being at the pair’s reunion following a falling out, caused by Procris’s jealousy.
Later in Ovid’s story, Procris suspects her husband’s infidelity, follows him to a forest and hides when she hears him approach. Thinking she is a wild animal, Cephalus accidentally kills her with his spear (book 7: 796–865). Perhaps instead of depicting a reunion, Claude intended this painting to show a happier ending where Procris is brought back to life, although this is also not included in Ovid’s tale. This alternative ending was included in a famous Italian play performed during the fifteenth century and published many times. In any case, the painting would have acted as a warning to newly-weds of the dangers of jealousy and unfaithfulness.
Most of the composition reflects the beauty of nature, inspired by Claude’s trips to the countryside near Rome, where he spent most of his life. The eye is led back and forth across the landscape in stages so that every detail can be appreciated. Large trees in the centre, painted with precise, brushstrokes, frame the figures. The different buildings and ruins in the landscape create a sense of scale and distance. The warm, pink sky highlights the subtle green tones and the contrast between light and shade on the foliage and foreground landscape. The reflections of the herdsman and his cattle in the pond’s surface are painted with meticulous attention to detail.
This picture was painted in 1645 for an unknown patron in Paris. Claude returned to this subject many times during his career. Another episode from this story, Landscape with the Death of Procris, is attributed to his studio. The subject was popular with other artists in the seventeenth century. The Gallery owns Nicolas Poussin’s Cephalus and Aurora (1630) and Peter Paul Ruben’s Aurora abducting Cephalus (1636/7).
Claude’s painting and its pair, A Seaport, were among the first works bought by the National Gallery in 1824, from the renowned collection of John Julius Angerstein.
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