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Two people, one draped in bright yellow and blue, take us from their high viewpoint into this dramatic landscape. A river leads from the bottom left corner, through a rocky gorge, to the lake in the middle distance, set in a valley below snow-covered mountains. A storm has broken over the peaceful meadows at the lake shore: from a swiftly moving rain cloud, a jagged shaft of lightning cuts across the sky.
We don't know whether the picture illustrates an episode from a particular narrative. The landscape combines natural observation with imaginary details. In the valley, there is a small settlement with the type of Romanesque church tower found in some French villages, as well as a classical arch of the kind seen in Rome. Bathed in sunlight, the foreground scene leads our eye in a zigzag across the composition and towards the valley and the distant blue mountains.
We don‘t know whether the picture illustrates an episode from a particular narrative. The painting was once called ’The Flight of Ahab', although this story does not exist in the Old Testament. While there are similarities between this scene and the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which according to the Book of Genesis was caused by a lightning bolt, it seems unlikely to be the subject we see here.
Millet specialised in classical landscapes, which combined observation of nature with imaginary details. The valley seen here contains a settlement with the type of Romanesque church tower found in many French villages, as well as a classical arch more often seen in Rome than in this type of rural setting. Bathed in sunlight, the foreground scene leads our eye in a zigzag across the composition and towards the valley and mountains, whose blue tones convey the fact that they are some distance away. A closer look at the painting reveals further details: the group of people climbing up the hillside; the buildings at the water’s edge to the right; and the groups of trees and roads leading to further settlements in the valley and nestled in the mountains.
Millet painted this ambitious picture in the 1670s, late in his career when he was working in Paris. The subject suggests that he was familiar with works by Nicolas Poussin such as Storm (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen), which he perhaps knew through prints made after the painting. The influence of Gaspard Dughet can also be seen in the loose brushwork, sweeping path and person on horseback. However, Millet has not framed his composition with trees as Poussin and Dughet usually did. The extensive panorama seen from a high viewpoint is more reminiscent of sixteenth-century Flemish landscape painting.
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