The English landscape garden, with its extensive pastoral parklands dotted with mansions and follies in the Palladian style became emblematic of the ideals of civic humanism. The landscape was an idealized version of a shepherd’s commons, but it was a commons symbolic, as the poet Alexander Pope noted, of the pastoral environment of a golden age, as described for example by Virgil, when the ‘best’ of men were shepherds. This idea of landscape grew out of both pictorial art and theatre, and it was related to philosophical thinking which saw politics and law as a kind of theatre in which the citizen was to perform. The idealized landscape of the landscape garden thus provided the necessary scenic setting for the achievement, at least in ideal, of a modern enlightened society based upon representative government and the rights of the individual, not the least the right to break with the feudal system and own and dispose of private property. It was thus hardly an accident that Thomas Jefferson, who framed the American democratic constitution, lived in a Palladian villa (of his own design) surrounded by a pastoral landscape garden park which he saw as being contiguous with the larger landscape of Virginia and America. This, then, was a landscape symbolic of law, but of an ideal of law in a larger and more abstract sense than the kind of laws and regulations compartmentalized within Landschaftsforschung. This is the sort of law which is concerned with individual human and property rights as enshrined, for example, in the Bill of Rights attached to the US Constitution. It is, of course, easy to point out the glaring contradictions between the situation of a British Whig estate owner/parliamentarian, living off lands enclosed from the commons, or a rich slave owner with a large Virginian estate, like Jefferson, and the enlightened ideals which they expressed, but these ideals were nevertheless foundational for the laws guaranteeing the democratic liberties many people of lesser wealth now value today.
Nicolas Poussin, The Arcadian Shepherds (Et in Arcadia Ego) (1638)
Henry Hoare II, Stourhead Gardens (c.1754)
(Header: Jane Braddick Peticolas, View of the West Front of Monticello and Garden, depicting Thomas Jefferson’s grandchildren at_Monticello, (1825))