Paris, 1733 - Paris, 1808
1785, oil on canvas, 139 x 93 cm
The fame of Hubert Robert comes from a genre learnt in Italy with the painter Piranèse: landscape ruins. He thus depicts the grandiose ruins of a basilica with vaults decorated with coffers and a Corinthian colonnade, serving as a cowshed for a herd. The light enters through a hole in the collapsed vault. In the foreground, a hill of debris in an area of shadow at the summit of which a cow has broken away, accentuates the effect of perspective. The tones are a range of browns, greens and yellows. A bluish fog appears through the openings, and there are some hints of blue in the fabric on the right. On its presentation at the Salon in 1785, the description read: “this painting has an astounding magic and the perspective is exceptionally competent”.
Here, everything returns to the Italian models: the reference to Antiquity with its colossal architecture and the taste for trivial details, with the cowherd led by peasants replacing the gods of mythology. Only the break in the vault and the well of light it causes break from the genre. But all is explained, if we recall that this painting illustrates the possibility of overhead natural lighting for the grand gallery of the Louvre, which, at this the end of the 18th century, there was talk of turning into a museum. This painting is therefore not merely an architectural caprice.