Cultured Wednesday: Gifford’s Lake Nemi

“On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern city of Nemi is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana of the Woods.”

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Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough (…) is a dream-like vision of the little woodland lake of Nemi – “Diana’s Mirror,” as it was called by the ancients.  No one who has seen that calm water, lapped in a green hollow of the Alban hills, can ever forget it.  (…)  Diana herself might still linger by this lonely shore, still haunt these woodlands wild.”

Thus begins Frazer’s Golden Bough, but instead of wondering about the mortal King of the Woods, the tree he guards with his life, and his leading lady, the immortal woodland Diana, we shall halt here and contemplate the scene, the little woodland lake, and how wonderfully Sanford Robinson Gifford managed to illustrate the principle “as above, so below” in this, one of his chief paintings.

Lake Nemi Diannas Mirror
Sanford Robinson Gifford: Lake Nemi (1856–57), Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio

Sanford Robinson Gifford, born on 10 July 1823 in New York State, died on 29 August 1880 in New York City, was an American landscape painter and one of the leading members of the Hudson River School.  His landscapes are known for their emphasis on light, hence he is regarded as a practitioner of Luminism.

None of this, however, says anything about the atmosphere of Gifford’s paintings, an atmosphere to get lost in, much like Frazer’s book.

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