Landscape may be represented by painting, drawing, or engraving; by photography, film, and theatrical scenery; by writing, speech, and presumably even music and other “sound images”. Before all those secondary representations, however, landscape is itself a physical and multisensory medium (earth, stone, vegetation, water, sky, sound and silence, light and darkness, etc.) in which cultural meanings and values are encoded, whether they are put there by the physical transformation of a place in landscape gardening and architecture, or found in a place formed, as we say, “by nature”. The simplest way to summarize this point is to note that it makes Kenneth Clark’s title, Landscape into Art, quite redundant: landscape is already artifice in the moment of its beholding, long before it becomes the subject of pictorial representation.
We are surrounded with things which we have not made and which have a life and structure different from our own: trees, flowers, grasses, rivers, hills, clouds. For centuries they have inspired us with curiosity and awe. They have been objects of delight. We have recreated them in our imaginations to reflect our moods. And we have come to think of them as contributing to an idea which we have called nature. Landscape painting marks the stages in our conception of nature. Its rise and development since the Middle Ages is part of a cycle in which the human spirit attempted once more to create a harmony with its environment.
Giorgione, The Tempest (1508)
Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft (1661)
Thomas Gainsborough, Mr.and Mrs Robert Andrews (c. 1748–1750)
J.M.William Turner, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)
Claude Monet, Wild Poppies Near Argenteuil (1873)
Paul Klee Landscape with yellow church tower (1920)