The Aegean Sea

The Aegean Sea is a c. 1877 oil painting by American artist Frederic Edwin Church, and one of his last large-scale paintings.


The painting measures. It is a capriccio inspired by Church's travels to Europe and the Middle East from 1867 to 1869. The composite image includes elements from sketches that Church made in different locations, including a rock-cut entrance from Petra in a cliff to the left, fallen capitals from the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek in the lower left, Roman columns from Syria to the right, and in the distance across a body of water lie classical ruins that resemble the Acropolis of Athens or the in Ancient Corinth, and the dome and minaret of a mosque from Istanbul. In the foreground are three small human figures in conversation beside a road based on an oil study of three Bedouins. The cloudy sky is enlivened by a double rainbow.
In this work, Church moved away from his usual naturalistic style to a more idealised style. The atmospheric effects that may be inspired by the paintings of J. M. W. Turner which Church had seen in London. The work may also take inspiration from Turner's 1826 view of the Roman Forum. Church designed a gilded frame for the painting, decorated with an eclectic mixture of Middle Eastern motifs, including stars and rosettes, and egg-and-dart and other moldings.


The painting was bought by the railway tycoon William H. Osborn, a close friend and supporter of Church, and bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the death of his wife Virginia Reed Osborn in 1902.