The painting Dido Building Carthage, also known as The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire is a work of the Romantic artist William Turner and was finished in 1815. It shows a landscape created from Virgil’s Latin epic poem Aeneid, which tells the story of Dido and her Trojan lover Aeneas at the founding of the city of Carthage.
On the left side of the composition, we can see Dido and Aeneas. The new city is being constructed in Northern Africa, and the plans for the buildings are being clarified in this scene. It is believed that the kids Turner depicted playing with a paper boat by the waters of the river represented the naval power of Carthage.
In the center of the canvas, the setting sun shines white with a yellow aura. The rest of the sky is of a clear blue. On both sides of the composition, there are constructions. A majestic tree on the right balances the composition giving it a movement that goes from it to the bottom left corner of the canvas and then back to it in a continuous balanced compositional movement.
Joseph Mallord William Turner said once that this painting was his masterpiece and even asked in the first draft of his will for it to be buried with him. Luckily, he changed his mind and instead asked for the Dido Building Carthage to be always hung alongside The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. However, in the third and final version of the will, Turner peculiarly changed his wishes and requested that this painting should be shown with Sun rising through vapor. His desires included that such works should always be shown next to the canvas Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, by the French artist Claude Lorrain.
The composition of this painting shows a setting sun which might refer to the decline of the Carthage empire which would not linger. However, Turner was impressed by the centralized sun that Lorrain depicted in his sunset canvases, to the point of crying over one of this mesmerizing works. So, this was probably the main reason why he chose to render a sunset in such a way.
Other examples of works in which Turner used the Lorrain’s setting sun are Caernarvon Castle, a watercolor painted in 1799 and The Slave Ship, an oil painting from 1840. This last one shows the mature style of Turner, with the solving elements, blurred outlines, and expressive brushstrokes.
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