Landscape Painting: A History by Nils ButtnerLandscape Painting: A History by Nils Buttner

Landscape Painting: A History

byNils Buttner

Hardcover | October 1, 2006

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Since Antiquity, painters have sought to portray the glories of nature, and many of their pictures have become the best-known masterpieces in the history of art. In this sweeping treasury of Western art, distinguished art historian Nils Büttner has chosen paintings that not only portray natural vistas but also dramatic scenes with people and architecture. His broad selection of paintings in this genre consists mainly of well-known works, but some seldom-reproduced pictures are also included. The paintings are presented chronologically, beginning with the heritage from the ancient world and the precursors of landscape artists in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, and Raphael. The sixteenth century heralded a new perception of the world, reflected in the works of such masters as Albrecht Dürer and Bruegel, as shown. Next, artists of the flowering age of landscapes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are featured, including Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Rubens, Rembrandt, Fragaonard, David, and Gainsborough. In the early nineteenth century, which was dominated by the spirit of Romanticism, artists began to display a new manner of treating nature. These revolutionary conceptions of nature are vividly presented with examples from Constable, Turner, Whistler, Frederic Church, Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer. These artists are followed by plein-air painters, Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists, among them Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, van Gogh, and Rousseau. Artists represented from the twentieth century include Matisse, Picasso, Klee, Magritte, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth, and David Hockney. Many of the extraordinary works are reproduced in full along with a detail and an informative caption.

In the authoritative text, the author traces the history of landscape painting up to the present day but also focuses on individual paintings and the circumstances under which they were created. Along with a description of a painting, the lucid text examines the work’s cultural, historical, and aesthetic context.

The art of landscape artists, which has long been an under-published area of art history, is finally and stunningly revealed in this richly illustrated tribute to their work. This fresh vision of landscape artists is certain to be welcomed by art historians and museum-goers, as well anyone else interested in Western art.
Nils Büttner is a professor of art history at Dortmund University. He is the author of The Invention of the Landscape, the co-author of several books, the author of numerous catalog essays, and a curator of a number of museum exhibitions.
Title:Landscape Painting: A HistoryFormat:HardcoverDimensions:416 pages, 13 × 11 × 1.7 inPublished:October 1, 2006Publisher:Abbeville Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0789209020

ISBN - 13:9780789209023


Read from the Book

The history of landscape painting has yet to be written, though it is a book we have been awaiting for years. Whoever writes it faces a huge and unusual task, one of bewildering novelty and scope.” With these words the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke began his book on the Worpswede painters in 1903. The history he felt was so sorely needed back then would soon be written. The intervening century has seen the publication of not only a single history of landscape painting but a number of them, yet the task remains as daunting as before. One of the chief difficulties is to do justice to individual works and the specific circumstances under which they were created, and at the same time to present a historical overview, one that clearly —but without oversimplifying—details a complex sequence of artistic trends, many of which appeared simultaneously. In Rilke’s day it was generally felt that the history of art could be described as a continuous succession of separate styles, each of them progressing from a beginning to a culmination and ultimate decline. The evolution of landscape painting was thought to have followed just such a pattern, and it was said that its first flowering ended with the collapse of the ancient world. In the subsequent “dark ages” the art of landscape was supposed to have survived in only the most token form, until nature began to overspread the gold backgrounds of religious panel paintings at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was argued that thanks to continued expansion of this ancillary subject matter in panel painting, following the example of book illumination, the figures became successively less important until finally what religious staffage remained was mere pretense, and landscape emerged as an autonomous pictorial genre. One of the early writers to describe this logical evolution was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Rilke accepted that description, and up until recently one still finds traces of it in art historical literature. This outmoded view of the history of landscape painting presupposes a hierarchy among mediums, within which the history of a genre is nothing more than a matter of aesthetics. Art historians traditionally held panel painting to be the supreme artistic achievement, and traced the development of the various pictorial genres almost exclusively with reference to the lives of artists working in that medium. They gave no more consideration to the possibility that this hierarchy, a product of eighteenth-century thinking, might not be appropriate for all periods, than to the fact that historically artists have been dependent on patrons, and have had to conform to their expectations.Any more comprehensive look at early landscape painting forces us to recognize that the assumption that the genre evolved out of narrative painting is unsatisfactory. If we take into account other historical mediums, not only panel painting, it is clear that it was not simply a progressive suppression of the narrative picture’s figural staffage that gave rise to landscape painting as an independent genre. As it happens, the present study focuses mainly on the medium of panel painting, yet to properly trace the history of landscape in panel painting, it is necessary to consider the depiction of nature in other mediums as well, especially from periods that have left behind no paintings on wood or canvas. It is perfectly obvious that one should have to look at the painting of antiquity, the ideals of which were emulated for centuries. No history of landscape painting can omit the genre’s prehistory, if only because it reveals that for all the differences in the way landscape has been rendered, delight in pictures of nature and the uses to which they have been put have persisted unchanged. People in the ancient world took special pleasure from the contemplation of nature, whether firsthand or as represented in paintings. Unfortunately, it is impossible to generalize about this highly subjective phenomenon, since some of the terms employed by ancient writers in their descriptions of it, though repeated over the course of many centuries, underwent profound changes in meaning. Despite this, it is a fact that even the earliest writers included praise of landscape pictures, which they held to be the equal of nature itself or even superior to it. Conversely, it was already common in classical literature to celebrate certain natural vistas as being as lovely as, or worthy of, a painting. Both actual landscapes, perceived as more or less beautiful, and pictures of landscapes, as works of art and aesthetic objects, could convey meaning, and often it was that meaning that artists found most important. Landscapes could communicate something even in antiquity; for example, they could be read—and this too is unquestionably a constant in how such works are perceived—as illustrations of the immanence of the divine in nature or as allusions to the bliss that awaits man in Elysium, or paradise. In an entirely different, wholly secular way, a landscape could represent a person’s landholdings, serving to symbolize the power and dignity associated with ownership of property and absolute dominion within its boundaries. A landscape could allude to the wealth derived from agriculture, illustrate the luxuriance of a private garden, or be perceived in a more general sense as representative of one’s homeland, and accordingly attest to the owner’s patriotism. Related to such illustrations of a specific region are landscapes expressive of distinctly geographical interest. Depictions of particular areas with their typical flora and fauna are a form of geographical description rooted in antiquity. But even didactic pictures of this kind could also be admired as works of art or convey religious meaning. All these basic functions of the landscape picture can be traced, in varying proportion and at times in combination, up into our own time. It is significant, for example, that in the modern era landscapes began to be produced in mass quantity and recognized as an autonomous genre within panel painting at a time of heightened interest in cosmography and descriptions of the physical world. Early evidence of this interest was the publication in 1570 of the first atlas by Abraham Ortelius. During the sixteenth century landscapes became fully accepted as appropriate subject matter for prints and panel painting, but it would be a long time yet before painters, freed from their dependence on patrons, began exploiting landscape for their own stylistic experiments. At that point landscape painting can be seen to have assumed yet another function, and only then did landscape become not only an established subject matter in art, but one universally respected.One indication of how long it took for landscape painting to be recognized as an autonomous art genre dates from 1650. In that year the Englishman Edward Norgate asserted in his book on watercolor painting that there was really no word for the art of landscape, for it was simply too new. The term landscape came into general use only later in the century, though as early as 1521 Albrecht Dürer had referred to his Antwerp colleague Joachim Patinir as a “gut landschafft mahler” (“good landscape painter”), and at that same time the Venetian Marcantonio Michiel admired the “many small landscapes” in the collection of Cardinal Grimani. In this same period the German poet Hans Sachs used the term to describe what one sees looking out from a tower, namely “die landschafft ferr und nahen” (“the landscape far and near”). Admittedly, for him the term simply designated a specific panorama, not a particular segment of nature perceived as especially charming. Edward Norgate provides still another indication that the meaning of the word we now take for granted had not yet found general use in the mid-seventeenth century. To him it was perfectly clear that it was the Dutch who had made landscapes a special branch of painting, and had rightly given the new art its name. A polyglot lexicon published in Antwerp by Christoph Plantin in 1573, Schatz der niederdeutschen Sprache, provides a sense of how the Dutch understood the term landscape at that time. This Thesaurus theutonicae linguae—to use its Latin title—contains not only individual words but also useful phrases. Under landtschap one finds five possible Latin translations and four French ones, namely “regio, eparchia, tractus, terra, terrenum” and “contree, pais, terre, ou region.” The term clearly meant “district” or, more generally, a somewhat expansive portion of the earth’s surface. The translations offered in that dictionary are confirmed by the later Thesaurus Polyglottus, from 1603, a dictionary that glosses eight languages at once. There the term landscape refers mainly to a geographical or political region, a district or territory under a single jurisdiction. Extrapolating from this original meaning, the term came to be used descriptively in lists of properties and estate inventories in reference to pictures in which certain districts were depicted. It was from this sense of the term, developed over the course of the sixteenth century, that our modern use of it as the designation of a genre derived.The history of landscape painting is here presented in a narrative sequence by century and by country. Since it was not uncommon for painters to work far away from where they were born, in some instances it proved necessary to ignore their actual nationalities. And of course the turn from one century to the next in no way reflects any interruption in the flow of history. The chosen sequence necessarily produces arbitrary breaks. Yet such an arrangement by epochs and countries is a time-tested way of reducing the otherwise impenetrable complexity of history to manageable segments, and describing the past comprehensibly. Only in retrospect, rising above time, does the impossible tangle of history submit to sequential narrative. One danger of this sort of presentation is that it creates the illusion of a certain historical inevitability, that developments have proceeded in a logical way from a given starting point up to the present day. To prevent the appearance of some kind of continuous progression, the period designations used by nineteenth-century historians have been largely avoided. The text focuses as much as possible on individual paintings and the circumstances under which they were created. The selection of pictures to be included was therefore of particular importance. Because of the wealth of available material, strict imitation was essential. To illustrate the major trends in the history of landscape painting, it was necessary to virtually ignore seascapes and cityscapes, and to almost completely exclude paintings of gardens. Especially outstanding works of famous painters make up the majority of the illustrations, though a number of pictures that are rarely reproduced or exhibited are also included. Given the number of important works and artists that could not be considered, the decision to be guided in the selection by content was not an easy one, especially since it was obvious that completeness even in this regard was out of the question. One can only hope that the pictures selected and the accompanying text pique an interest in the many works that could only be alluded to or were passed over entirely. The bibliography, arranged by subject, should serve as a guide for those who would like to learn more about the works discussed and to study the scholarship on which the book is based. There is still much to be discovered.

Table of Contents


The Ancient World
Classical Landscape Painting 23
“Country houses, colonnades, garden structures” 24
The Idyllic Spot 26
Garden Art 28
The Portrayal of Real and Mythical Worlds 30

From the Close of Antiquity to the Beginning of the Modern Era
The Ideal Landscape 33
Landscape as a Symbol of Good Government 36
The Beauty of Nature 37
From Giotto to Petrarch 38
Landscape and Dominion 40
Portrait and Territory 50
Profane Landscape as a Sacred Ground 54

The Invention of Landscape: The 16th Century
Pastoral Idylls — Venice 73
Giorgione 73
Villa Mania 78
In the Light of Titian 81
Mountains, Forests, Cities — Germany 86
Albrecht Durer 86
The Rediscovery of Ancient Geography 87
Albrecht Altdörfer and the Danube School 90
World Landscapes — Flanders 100
Joachim Patinier and Herri Met De Bles 100
Pieter Brueghel and His Age 106
Buyers and Collectors 112

World Pictures: The 17th Century
Rome and the World 125
Accademia Del Naturale 127
Nature Imagined and Observed 134
Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin 139
Heroic or Pastoral 148
Flemish Specialization 150
Mountains and Forests 150
Nature and Art 158
The Ideal of Country Life 162
Peter Paul Rubens 164
The Northern Netherlands 165
Plaisante Plaetsen — Pleasant Spots 165
Their Own Way 178
Religious Issues 183
Specialization 188
Italianists 189
Questions of Meaning 200
The Realistic View 208

Regency, Enlightenment, and Romanticism: The 18th and 19th Centuries
France 215
Fetes Galantes 215
Between a New Way of Looking and Traditional Ideas 221
Italy 230
Travel Fever 230
Identifiable Landscapes 234
The Actual View 238
England 239
A New Method 244
Topography 246
Constable and Turner 247
Germany 260
Inner Worlds: Caspar David Friedrich 260
Neoclassicists and Nazarenes 264
From Dusseldorf to St. Petersburg 273

New Departures: The 19th and 20th Centuries
Pictures from the New World 279
France 296
Barbizon and Realism 296
Impressionism and Postimpressionism 308
Nabis and Fauves 335
From Symbolism to Art Nouveau 340

Modernism and Beyond: The 20th Century to the Present
New Paths, New Ways of Seeing 357
Cubism 357
Neo-Plasticism 360
Futurism 362
Surrealism 362
Idylls and Catastrophes 370
The Blue Rider 370
Die Brücke 375
Political Landscapes 381
America 386
Looking Ahead 394

Bibliography 402
Index 410
Picture Credits 416

Editorial Reviews

"Assuredly, no one will ever write the definitive history of landscape that will please everyone, but Nils Büttner, author of The Invention of the Landscape, comes as close to the ideal of what such a history of the genre might be in this impressive tome. Lavishly and magnificently illustrated, Landscape Painting: A History covers a range of time that begins in antiquity and ends in the present. As with any such compendium, selection must occur (which is why Büttner calls it “a” history and not “the” history), but it must at all costs strive to be as inclusive as possible, and this he has done with considerable thought and care. Whatever your predilections and favorites, this is one book that is destined to be a favorite for a great many aficionados of the landscape painting." —Art Times"This powerful, comprehensive history of landscape painting is lavishly illustrated with reproductions of paintings from ancient times to the present... Strengths in this beautiful volume are apparent. Text and illustrations are skillfully integrated. Pictorial details are introduced where appropriate, each supporting the other; they enhance the text so readers can better understand and appreciate the image. The text itself is lucid as well as highly readable. Illustrations, some unfamiliar, strengthen the scholarly premises that the author develops. Büttner approaches his content in a narrative, almost vernacular manner, making this book appealing intellectually as well as aesthetically. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED." —Choice Magazine