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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Landscape Painting Elements

Landscape Painting, the art of depicting natural scenery in painting. In the East, particularly China, it has long played a central role in art, but in the Western world it did not become a separate branch of painting until the 16th century, and was initially considered to be less important than figure painting.

Landscape painting elements appeared in ancient Egyptian and Greek art, but only as a setting for other subjects. The Romans seem to have been the first to employ landscape in painting for its own sake.

They showed a great love of the countryside in their poetry, and in the 1st century ad Roman writer Pliny the Elder told of the “fashion of painting walls with pictures of country houses and porticoes and landscape gardens, groves, woods, hills, fishponds, canals, rivers, coasts.” A few fragments of such landscape paintings have survived from the ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ad 79.

During most of the Middle Ages, Western art was almost exclusively religious, and landscapes were depicted only occasionally in painting, as an incidental feature. From about the 14th century, however, landscape painting began to assume a more prominent place in art. Religious scenes were increasingly set in the natural and workaday world.

This change reflected a new joy in nature that Saint Francis of Assisi had introduced to Christianity as well as a scientific spirit of observation typical of the Renaissance. Art historians generally agree that the first picture in Western art to depict a scene recognizable as an actual place is The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1444, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland) by the Swiss painter Konrad Witz, which depicts part of Lake Geneva.

German artist Albrecht Altdorfer usually receives credit for landscape painting the earliest surviving examples of pure landscape, without any human figures. One such work by Altdorfer is Landscape with Footbrige (1520?) in the National Gallery in London.

By 1600 landscape painting had become established as an independent branch of art. Initially it was more popular in northern Europe than southern Europe. The word landscape probably entered the English language in the late 16th century, derived from the Dutch word landschap.

The first great flowering of landscape painting occurred in 17th-century Holland; it was an expression of the pride in their country felt by the Dutch, who had recently won independence from Spain. Many scholars regard Jacob van Ruisdael, who painted during the mid-17th century, as the greatest of all Dutch landscape painters, but he had many distinguished contemporaries.

Dutch landscapes painting were usually naturalistic, but in Italy another tradition developed, known as the ideal landscape. In this approach, the elements of nature were arranged into carefully structured, elegant compositions that served as settings for mythological or religious subjects.

The ideal landscape painting was invented by Italian artist Annibale Carracci in the first decade of the 17th century, but its most famous exponents were Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, French painters who worked in Rome in the mid-17th century. They were inspired by the art of ancient Rome to convey classical principles of order, clarity, and serenity in their paintings. The ideal, or classical, landscape became highly popular among painters, influencing the art of many countries.

The ideal landscape painting continued to flourish in the 19th century, but other approaches also emerged, notably in the work of Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich in Germany and J. M. W. Turner in Britain, who emphasized the awesome and mystical aspects of nature. In the United States, members of the Hudson River School expressed a similar spirit as well as a desire to glorify the natural beauty of their country, especially its spectacular mountain scenery.

At the same time, such painters as Camille Corot in France and John Constable in Britain enriched the landscape painting tradition with a new spirit through their loving observation of ordinary, unidealized scenes. Their work—especially their efforts to depict the fleeting effects of light—influenced the French Impressionists, who helped establish landscape’s great popularity.

In the 20th century landscapes painting have continued to be a favorite subject for artists who work in more or less traditional, representational styles. It has also formed the starting point for some avant-garde developments, including many abstract compositions and surrealist fantasies.

Anne Ahira
Editor The Best Affiliate Newsletter


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