Shepherds and shepherdesses have been a popular subject in art for centuries. They play a role in Greek and Roman frescoes, and in Christian art shepherds are present at the Nativity. This motif was raised to new heights by painters who celebrated pastoral (Latin pastoralis, ‘relating to a shepherd’) life, such as the Venetian artists Titian and Giorgione around 1600. Pastoral themes centred on the tranquillity of country life and the love between shepherds and shepherdesses. Their landscape setting was called ‘Arcadian’, after the mythological pastoral paradise of Arcadia. The 17th-century Italianates from the Northern Netherlands and Flanders also painted sun-drenched Italian landscapes populated with herdsmen and herds of cattle. Set in the foreground, these tiny figures served to make the landscape seem vaster and the ancient ruins more imposing. In the 18th century objects in the Rococo style were ornamented with charming Arcadian motifs, while in 19th-century paintings the harsh lives of shepherds and peasants came to be romanticized.
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