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The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (1817)

N00499_10As the current exhibition at the National Gallery explores (Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude), Claude Lorrain was Turner's favourite old master painter. The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire is one of the most outstanding paintings in the exhibition. Painted as one of a pair, Turner employs many of Claude's signature motifs: imaginary grand classical architecture, mythical themes and a light-suffused canvas with the sun at its heart.

The light in this painting is uncanny - it invokes the sun-drenched pastoral idylls poineered by Claude, but also anticipates Turner's more abstract works where form falls away. The invocation of Carthage is complex: it reflects the theme of inevitable imperial collapse, but also a mythic imperial tradition of which ancient Carthage was such an important part. By invoking it with such grandeur, Turner rejects those who wanted to downplay the role of Carthage in both myth and history in favour of almighty Rome. See my article on Carthage here for a further exploration of this theme.

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire is part of the Turner Bequest at the Tate.