Return of ideas and values from classical antiquity is the main feature of the Renaissance. It is precisely this cultural movement that saw the emergence of neoclassicism and relished the fruits of its art. This is the epoch that recalled the memory of the ancient myth and revived it in order to bridge the gap with the past (Bauer, Prater, 65). Legends which were long forgotten once again conquered artistic imagination in order to echo the lost meaning of drama and praise the magnificence of passion. Claude Lorrain uncovered the lost glory of Iliad from the ruins of oblivion and bestowed upon it an eternal fame in the world of art.
Aeneas at Delos evokes the heroic journey of the Trojan hero who escaped the tragic fate of his city to become the founder of Rome. It is not merely a celebration of the transition between death and birth but a palette of emotions, impulses and motives all mixed into a kaleidoscopic whole. The painting impresses with its relaxed and peaceful mood as well as its broad range of muted tones(Dimitrov, 171). Colours evoke a bright and cheerful atmosphere however not concealing the whirlpool of feelings hidden underneath. An air of serenity rules the setting but not without the suggestion of war, chaos and destruction; for Aeneas' visit to Delos took place after the massacre in Troy. The sea is calm but wavy; the sky is clear but clouds could still be discerned. Tranquillity is given expression but the image of a recent and perhaps impending danger continues to cast its shadow on the background. The idea of transience is given subtle prominence. Sheep graze unthreatened while a woman with a child cross a brook and walk freely. Nature is kindly disposed to Aeneas and those with him because he has seen turmoil and deserves this act of mercy. There are many boats present in the semi-enclosed harbour.
Through them Aeneas left the old world of destruction to embark on a journey towards new lands. The location of the temples bears a great degree of significance. They are placed among natural images, those of the ocean, trees and animals. This technique is peculiar to the neoclassicism and carries art into a new dimension (Zarev, 756). Borders of space and time are broken. The historical context loses its importance. The painting turns into a panegyric of eternity. Lorrain uses dark greens and browns on the foreground. Furthermore, the tunics of the people standing at the base of the foremost temple are of bright colours. The artist renders a fine vividness to convey richness of experience. At this point stands the notion of discontinuous completeness, of objects as seen intrinsically. It is a world of conflicts and contrasts, the struggle of human passions and the antagonism of good and bad. Light blues and whites gradually tone in the background to create the perception of spatial depth. Sky, sea and ground enter a single entity. Reality becomes metaphysical, seeking a new explanation, perhaps one beyond the known and rational.
The true essence of man and the reason for his creation are implicit. The need to overcome what is ephemeral becomes apparent. The background exhibits a silent and unpretentious sort of appeal. Its majesty of grandeur comes out of its humbleness. The tale is old as times and constantly recurring; it's about true essence of man. There is nothing new under this cloudy sky. As long the spirit remains under the yoke of its passions history will continue to come back in future. The vague but clearly visible shapes of the hills from the far distance denote the theme of eternal recurrence. The virtues of balance, harmony and moderation permeate the painting at all levels. The artist is gentle in the selection of colours offering temperance in brightness and saturation. Nature and society also share equal attention in terms of their presence. Peace is embraced but menace is not forgotten either.
The idea of virtue whose attainment should be the highest and only aim of man finds expression in "Aeneas at Delos". Honour and shame assume brighter nuances as the aim for perfection, a typical theme for neo-classism and a main aspect of ancient Greek society remains major preoccupation (Belev, 172). As harmony and virtue in general are perceived as the only road leading to excellence and eternity, there is much less room for relativism. The small community depicted on the landscape and particularly the men on the right hand side conversing together manage to insinuate the notions of moral absolutism, prejudice, honour and shame. Hence a conservative, patriarchal society reluctant to change of long cherished values comes to mind. Women's task is confined to bearing children while men are obliged to manifest qualities that are believed to be purely masculine. Courage in battle, strong sense of justice, respect towards elders and total denial of falsehood are probably the building blocks of the society Claude Lorraine reveals.
There is a complete prevalence of spirit over body. Passions are glorified but only when they serve to bring honour; people are judged not by their character regardless of what they possess because honour belongs to that ideal dimension which is transcendent and everlasting leading to eternity. Men are discussing something important at the base of the temple therefore personal opinion is highly respected and one's will to express it is not only an undeniable right but also a necessary duty. Each person is probably seen as an independent being with creative powers and own will, a unique building block of society, subject to the universal law of reason (Ivanov, 64). The artist represents a community of natural equality whose strong principles contemptuously denounce the notion of social arrangement based on hereditary privileges. Renaissance and neo-classicism included rebirth of values from ancient Greece and here is the return of that same democracy that was made in the same high pillared temples such as those illustrated on the painting (Kozarev, 98).
In conclusion, two are the major aspects that should be considered in the analysis of "Aeneas at Delos", nature and society. Even so, the first becomes simply a tool for the full expression of the second. Although at first glance, Claude Lorrain puts the emphasis on the natural setting, it is really about man. The influences of neo-classism are definitely diffused throughout the painting to bring the eternal themes virtue and moral into the consciousness of the contemporary man. The artist exploits the opposition of matter and mind just in order to bring the first in total submission of the second. "Aeneas at Delos" is certainly a true master piece in its ability to address the greatest problem of mankind, the question of man's identity and purpose.