The Anthropomorphic Landscapes of the 17th Century; or why Being Human is to see Ourselves, Everywhere
The Renaissance included a fascinating transitional period in which the human form melted with the landscape only to give rise the pure landscape of later years.
The only realism in art is of the imagination.
William Carlos Williams
Today, it is commonplace. We are used to, above all, the enjoyment of natural landscapes in painting as if they were the natural outcome of painting. We ask nothing more. We don’t need a human and cultural context to feel that a painting speaks to us directly or includes us in its visual referent. We may not even want to feel included. But to get here, we’ve had to pass, as a cultured species, through a transition that was most charming (though arguably, not particularly aesthetic).
Before the Renaissance there was no landscape painting, at least, not as we understand it. If present at all, a landscape was mere background scenery that lent verisimilitude to the human forms. This gradually changed. As trees, mountains, fields and oceans started to gain prominence, a curious phenomenon occurred: the anthropomorphic landscape. Human forms actually merged with the landscape, as if nature were nothing without the human narrative. It was as if man could not appreciate an art that didn’t return a reflection of himself, in the most literal sense of the word.
These paintings generally included a face hidden in the landscape, as if to suggest that the earth is the one who works it, and its meaning is only in the use that its put to. This was particularly true for several 17th century artists in the Netherlands. They produced multiple works featuring the silhouette of a bearded man appearing in profile over mountains of rock. The beginning of the trend can be traced to an image created by the great scholar and polymath, Athanasius Kircher, published in his Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1645/6). It’s said that his design was inspired by a story told by Vitruvius on the plan of the architect Dinócrates to sculpt a colossal image of Alexander the Great on Mount Athos.
Kircher’s modest representation, a face instead of an entire body, was copied and enlarged numerous times over the following decades, until the landscape itself was positioned as the subject of art. It’s thanks to this curious aesthetic and ontological transition that we can now appreciate and even enjoy a picture of the sea, the trees, a wasteland of snow, and without asking for more.
Personification is prominent because it catches people’s attention. We tend to want to see our reflections everywhere. Perhaps what happened in this transition is that people could be included in the oceans and in terrestrial landscapes in new amorphous and metaphorical ways. Or perhaps people just wanted to disconnect from the figure within nature and rest for a while. To change the aesthetic experience is to go further.
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the