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This painting focuses on bandits attacking a stagecoach and outriders in a narrow mountain pass. In folk legend banditti were exotic outsiders instead of common robbers, rather like Robin Hood’s ‘merry men’. De Loutherbourg’s landscapes directly echo ‘savage’ landscapes of the seventeenth-century italian artist Salvator Rosa.

Despite his preference for ‘the great style’, Reynolds was willing to admit the qualities of another, ‘inferior’ style, best seen in Rosa’s work. Reynolds thought Rosa’s landscapes lacked ‘that elevation and dignity which belongs to the grand style’ but had instead ‘a sort of dignity which belongs to savage and uncultivated nature’.

 

September 2004