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Claude Lorrain was Turner's favourite old master painter. This is one of his greatest essays in Claude's style. It is part of a pair of paintings showing the rise and fall of a great empire; here, Carthage's decline is symbolised by the setting sun.

Turner saw the rise and fall of once-great empires as a historical inevitability, confirmed by the fall of Napoleon, but threatening to overtake the victorious British. Today, the other half of the pair Dido building Carthage; or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire hangs, at Turner's request, alongside a painting by Claude in the National Gallery.

September 2004