Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Defining Landscape #1: Landschaft and landschap

When considering landscape art, it's useful to identify the definition and concept of the word landscape. SY9FVEQCX2B3

This is the first in a short series of posts which aim to do that. This post looks at the origins of the word and includes woodcuts of fifteenth century landscapes .

The word landscape originally had its roots the Old Higher German used in the twelth century. Landschaft related to a term used for country estates in an area.

The term then acquired its geographical meaning in the late Middle Ages and was susbequently incorporated into a term used for the feudal assembly of a country or area (see Landschaftsverband). Essentially this was a civic classification of territory - a geographical area defined by political boundaries. It is still employed in modern times in the terms used for municipal associations in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.

In Landscape and Western Art (Oxford History of Art), Professor Malcolm Andrews indicates that the land around a town was referred to as a landscape in the late fifteenth century. The woodcuts below provide an illustration of this.

The Nuremberg Chronicles is an illustrated world history from creation to its publication in 1493. Written in Latin by Hartman Schedel, it includes the histories of a number of important Western cities and contains woodcuts of these cities shown in the context of the land round about. They were the first ever illustrations of many cities and countries.

The notion is that adjacent rural territory (ie not of the town) could be designated the city's Landschaft or landscape. You can see more of the pages from the book - and much larger images - on this Wikimedia page.

I'm absolutely amazed at the way somebody has already worked out a technique for defining a high level perspective looking down on the towns. The drawings are not to scale but the bits I know appear very accurate as to visual appearance.

Roma (Rome)
Schedelsche Weltchronik (1493) by Hartmann Schedel

source: Wikipedia

Schedelsche Weltchronik (1493) by Hartmann Schedel
source: Wikipedia

Landschap is the Dutch term from which it is believed that the English word 'landscape' was derived. Henry Peacham (1546-1634), author of Graphice (1612) provides a definition.
Landskip is a Dutch word and it as much as should say in English landship, or expressing of the land by hilles, woods, Castles, seas, vallies, ruines, hanging rocks, Cities, Townes &c. As farre as may be shwed within out Horizon. If it be not drawne by itselfe, or for its own sake, but in respect and for the sake of something else: it falleth out among those things we we call perarga, which are additions or adjuncts rather or ornament then otherwise necessarie
Graphice, or, The most avncient and excellent art of drawing and limming (1612) By Henry Peacham
The next post will consider the notion of landscape in relation to the concept of parergon or parerga.


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