This painting belongs to a pair Gellée was commissioned to make by Urban VIII.
One depicts a View of Castel Gandolfo, a palace on the banks of Lake Albano (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum). Its counterpart, which entered the Petit Palais with the Dutuit collection, shows the little harbour of Santa Marinella near Civitavecchia, on the Roman coast, which this Pope decided to turn into a big port. He would not get past laying the initial foundations.
Although Claude went to Santa Marinella to produce his drawings, this is no topographical view, but a representation of a site in a fantasy setting, and curiously enough, the landscape, which is the point of the painting, is much reduced. He reconstructs nature following the methods of classical landscape painting, of which he was the ambassador par excellence. The real subject here is light. The intense orange radiance of the sky illuminates the depths of the landscape, is reflected in the water and unifies the space.
The physical beauty of the picture’s surface, the density of the brushstrokes down to the last detail, and the richness of the pigments help to express nature in its concrete and symbolic truth.