Hubert Robert was a French Rococo painter famous for his landscapes and “capricci,” or imagined architectural scenes, especially ruins. In fact, Diderot nicknamed him “Robert of the Ruins.”
So how do you tell if it’s a Robert? Well, you already got the gist of what makes a Lorrain a Lorrain. So now imagine being “inside” a Lorrain painting. Getting a close-up of the buildings that are always just out of reach in a Lorrain. Compare this painting above, View of Ripetta, with Lorrain’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.
Robert’s painting is almost a mirror image, looking back at the port, not at the ocean. Robert takes the sunlight on Lorrain’s ocean waves and shows you instead the interplay of light and stone instead, focusing on the buildings themselves. Robert was especially interested in shadows and how they interact with architecture, so his paintings typically take place in the late afternoon, when shadows will be the most prominent.
Unlike a Lorrain, there typically is no grand vista in a Robert. And while Robert’s paintings have a mythic quality much like Lorrain’s, they are also a bit more grounded in reality. For instance, in View of Ripetta, Robert is offering a view of a real street in Rome, the Via di Ripetta (Robert made his start in Rome before painting for the French Court). You can clearly see the Pantheon in the center of the painting. However, it is an imagined Pantheon. The real Pantheon, which sits catty-corner to the Via di Ripetta, is not situated on a harbor. It’s the focal point of the Piazza della Rotonda. Here is a view of it by Piranesi:
Of course, Robert could have been painting the now-defunct port of Ripetta in Rome and just threw the Pantheon on top of it. Now you’re getting the sense of a capriccio. It’s all imagined anyway!
Now let’s do one more Lorrain and Robert comparison.
Huge, idealized, Italianate landscape with small figures in the foreground, set at sunset? It’s a Lorrain! Note the ruined temple in the distance…
Bam! You are now inside that temple – “inside” the Lorrain! This painting by Robert still hints at a greater landscape beyond, but the focus is on the building itself. It’s also very much a painting of its time, with a little “fête galante” inside the ruined temple. If we went “inside” this painting, we’d probably end up with a Fragonard!
You may, of course, run into Roberts and Lorrains that don’t play by these rules. But as a general rule, if you see a painting that is “about” the architecture, it’s a Robert. If you see a painting that is “about” the landscape, it’s a Lorrain.