Guide Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime Landscape

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The challenges presented by science, religious doubt and positivist philosophy which accompanied the shift to an urban secular society, informed, in turn, the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. In Adam Bede Eliot writes:. In this world there are so many of these common coarse people It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes.

Searching for the sublime in deep dark holes

Therefore, let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things — men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them. There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. Sir John Everett Millais, Bt — By comparing the landscapes painted by artists such as Hunt, John Brett and J.

Inchbold with those of Turner, it can be seen that the former are distinguished from the latter by a lack of obtrusive facture coupled with a deliberate avoidance of meteorological elements as vehicles of sentiment. This can be read as a deliberate rejection of the visual conventions of the sublime. Central to the Pre-Raphaelite enterprise was its mission of truth to nature, an objective which entailed the accurate study of natural phenomena such as rocks and vegetation.

Pre-Raphaelite landscapes are typically small scale, bright, densely articulated and distinguished by abrupt disjunctions of scale and non-linear flattening qualities. In eschewing the Burkean idea of darkness and obscurity in favour of precise delineation, the artists involved in the movement saw nature as something to be inspected and understood, and conveyed in precise analytic terms. The empiricism that underpins the ideology of the Pre-Raphaelite landscape went hand in hand with a suburban outlook, a rejection of the traditional loci of the sublime in favour of mundane places, which, for Ruskin among others, were not worthy of representation.

The works of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, for example, frequently include a figure seen from behind gazing upon a view. John Constable — As the geologist D. Ansted argued in an essay on science and art in Art Journal in There should indeed be no worship of nature, for Art must not be pantheistic; but to ensure due appreciation without misdirected enthusiasm, truth alone is sufficient and necessary. Paradoxically, the emphasis on specificity which science bestowed on the humanities offered a new language for evoking the sublime, as science opened up fresh insights on unfathomable concepts such as time, space and existence, which both enthralled and terrified the beholder.

William Dyce — Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th ? The comet is so remote in space as to be nearly invisible to the naked eye and is not heeded by the various family members on the beach. From the time of his religious conversion when painting The Light of the World in —2 Keble College, Oxford , the idea of truth to nature became a moral imperative because Hunt believed that nature was the repository of transcendent truth.


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William Holman Hunt — Our English Coasts, 'Strayed Sheep' However, in the painting Hunt uses geological features to explore the spiritual and moral condition of the nation, thus creating a highly ambiguous image. At first sight the painting is a seemingly credible replication of a stretch of vulnerable coastline comprised of clay and sandstone running westwards from Fairlight Glen through Hastings to Bexhill.

David Seamon, "Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime Landscape" by Yi-Fu Tuan - PhilPapers

By attending, albeit inadvertently, to the past and future degradation of the land, Hunt subtly imposes another layer of meaning in representing a group of unsupervised sheep grazing on insecure rock. It is significant that Hunt sets the scene late in the day, as conveyed by the ominous lengthening shadows on the distant hill, which suggests it will not be long before the sheep are plunged into darkness and lose their footing.

This work shares many of the visual characteristics of Our English Coasts : a similar compositional plunge into space and a preoccupation with loose, semi-consolidated rock to convey a sense of instability as well as symbolic meaning. This may explain why he planned to append his Miltonic poem Moriah to the painting in order to make apparent its underlying symbolic significance. As the scholar George Landow has explained, Moriah, which is another name for the Temple Mount, was a sacred place where God had appeared to men, changing their lives and religion, and where he had brought about the events that prefigured the coming of Christ.

In the event, the poem was not attached to the work, most likely because Seddon was not able to resolve it into a satisfactory final version before his premature death in The following year he spoke of two distinct types of Pre-Raphaelitism, the poetic and the prosaic — one concerned with the imagination, the other with science — and contended that the latter was most significant for modern times in recording monuments of the past and scenes of natural beauty threatened by forces of modernisation.

Art has its foundation in mental philosophy and deals with the influences of the external world upon mind: science deals with the external independently of mind Here Brett presents science and art as two binary models for human knowledge and appears to be sceptical of any synthesis, perhaps because he felt that if art were to capitulate to the demands of science it risked losing its fundamental human perspective.


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  • The present conformation of the earth appears dictated And yet its former state must have been different from what it is now; as its present one from that which it must assume hereafter. The pictorial forms in Glacier of Rosenlaui appear to writhe with movement as if still in the process of formation. However, the lack of any sign of human life, coupled with the frozen static quality of the image, functions to bring these examples of ancient time into an uneasy conjunction with the present suggested by the more recent timescale of the glacier and temporal meteorological conditions.

    Here the rocks seem to represent a time so ancient that they render useless any attempt to impose human meaning or to suggest a directional purpose behind creation. Ruskin was later to argue that the sublime required an imagined human presence as an emotional centre, so a spectator or other human being should be placed within the scene. The resublimation of nature The difficulties audiences experienced in extracting ideas from works like Our English Coasts and Glacier of Rosenlaui were probably caused by the wealth of visual information provided by the artists which frustrated the detection of any deeper meaning.

    Literary metaphor, by contrast, did not hinder the expression of metaphysical insight in the same way. With the passing of Pre-Raphaelitism in the s there developed the idea that the aims of art should diverge from those of science and that the former should be competent on its own terms.


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    • Turner was for Hunt the greatest imaginative painter and he was not alone in engaging with his art at this time. Thus, in many respects landscape painting from the late s can be seen as a retreat back to Romantic notions of the natural sublime, particularly in terms of scale, facture and choice of location. The return to the sublime aesthetic can also be seen as a response to what has broadly been described as a crisis of faith following the spread of Darwinian theories of natural selection and evolution, together with a growing concern about the consequences of industrialisation and urbanisation on the environment.

      On the other hand, for those who retained a sense of faith the sublime represented a form of religious experience. Either way, landscape became at this time a metaphysical realm for the projection of emotion — a sort of liminal space that traversed fact and feeling and in which nature functioned as a reflex of the viewing subject.

      More significantly, perhaps, the intense blue admits a transcendental dimension lacking in the Rosenlaui picture. The rays which spotlight the centre and push back the horizon propose the idea of the sea as a space for contemplating the variants of existence, as in the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold and Algernon Charles Swinburne, all of whom wrote in symbolic terms about the sea and seashore.

      Brett was one of the few Pre-Raphaelite landscape artists who lost his faith; certainly, by the time he completed this work he was an affirmed atheist. Condition Brand New.

      Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime Landscape

      Description Geography is useful, indeed necessary, to survival. Everyone must know where to find food, water, and a place of rest, and, in the modern world, all must make an effort to make the Earth-our home-habitable. But much present-day geography lacks drama, with its maps and statistics, descriptions and analysis, but no acts of chivalry, no sense of quest. Not long ago, however, geography was romantic.

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      Heroic explorers ventured to forbidding environments-oceans, mountains, forests, caves, deserts, polar ice caps-to test their power of endurance for reasons they couldn't fully articulate. Why climb Everest? In his twenty-second book, Romantic Geography, he continues to engage the wide-ranging ideas that have made him one of the most influential geographers of our time. In this elegant meditation, he considers the human tendency-stronger in some cultures than in others-to veer away from the middle ground of common sense to embrace the polarised values of light and darkness, high and low, chaos and form, mind and body.

      The factory system of mass production was centred on processes that used and controlled natural forces such as water and wind, but also increased power by increasingly using fossil fuels. Cities expanded to unprecedented sizes, and grew into into centres of pollution, poverty and deprivation.

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      The accelerated sublime: thrill-seeking adventure heroes in the commodified landscape

      Population movement from the land, and rational search for economically efficient production methods involving division of labour, timekeeping and mechanisation led, according to the Romantic Movement, to spiritual alienation of the masses from the land and nature. As Marx and Engels perceived it, they became units of production: cogs in an impersonal productive machine. People and nature were objectified, and reduced to commodity status. This was regarded as undesirable and leading to the degradation of the humans. It was also a way out of the fumes of the growing industrial centres for the new industrial rich.

      Inspired by the works of romantic authors and poets such as Wordsworth, Keats and Shelly, they hopped on the newly developed railways and travelled to the Lake District. Spoliation of a pure natural landscape was regarded as undesirable and destructive. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

      This image is probably one of the most famous romantic paintings.