English aesthetic theories

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Some of the significant early influences on the development of modern conservation principles came from the aesthetic theories formulated in England in the eighteenth century. These theories were related to concepts of the picturesque and the sublime, first conceived in pictures depicting the classical landscape in Italy, and subsequently associated with the development of the English landscape garden with its mythological associations, its winding paths and ruined monuments. Later, picturesqueness was seen as one of the qualities in ancient architecture that justified its protection and conservation. In the early seventeenth century, the quality of being 'pittorescd was conceived in Italy as characteristic to painting or to painters. It was associated especially with paintings of nature, able to attract the observer with an effect of immediacy. The word 'sublime' came into use in England in the late seventeenth century after the translation of the treatise On the Sublime by Dionysius Cassius Longinus.10 Sublime meant 'greatness of conception, elevation of diction, and emotional intensity'; it was linked with great, wild, awe-inspiring and stupendous elements in natural scenery.

Classical landscape with its associations was best seen in the pastoral scenes of Claude Lorrain, in the savage, almost romantic compositions of Salvator Rosa, or in the popular paintings of Gaspard Dughet (called Poussin). While associated with elements from Italy, these paintings were composed as complete pictures filled with allegorical significance and relying on the effects of light. Through the contribution of poets and writers such as Henry Wotton, Francis Bacon, John Evelyn and John Milton, the idea of a picturesque classical landscape was gradually introduced into England at the cost of abandoning the earlier formal Renaissance garden layouts. The actual design and implementation of these pictures in reality was carried out by several distinguished architects.

The first were John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) and Willam Kent (c. 1685-1748), who developed the spatial concepts in the landscape garden as well as introducing many of the basic architectural elements to be found in later designs. In the 1760s and 1770s, the leading garden designer was Lancelot (Capability) Brown (1716-83), who perhaps brought the English garden to its fullest expression. John Vanbrugh, a playwright and architect who worked in the 1720s, e.g., at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, was conscious of 'picturesque design' and developed various classical elements, such as the Rotondo, the Temple of Bacchus and the Pyramid. Van-brugh also made an interesting early attempt to save an existing historic building as part of the picturesque landscape, the ruined Woodstock Manor at Blenheim, Oxfordshire. He appreciated the historical and personal associations of the place, and justified its picturesque significance as helping to shape and enrich the landscape, claiming that the Manor: 'wou'd make One of the Most Agreable Objects that the best of Landskip Painters can invent. And if on the Contrary this Building is taken away; there then remains nothing but an Irregular, Ragged Ungovernable Hill, the deformitys of which are not to be cured but by a Vast Expense.'11 Vanbrugh's attempt to save the building failed, but the letter remains an important early statement in the development of evaluation of historic sites in view of their conservation.

While initially conceived as classical Elysiums, Gothic taste and chinoiserie became fashionable in garden replicas in the 1740s. Batty Langley (1696-1751) contributed to this with his writings and designs of garden elements in different styles. The landscape garden on occasion came to include picturesque ruins of mediaeval abbeys and monasteries, such as Fountains Abbey - perhaps the most prestigious among them (entered on UNESCO's

World Heritage List in 1986). These ruins, however, were not included in garden layouts in order to conserve them, but rather for their picturesque value. Nevertheless, they were conserved to maintain the effect.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, several writers contributed to the development of the theories related to the design of landscape gardens and also to the appreciation of natural scenery. A particular reference in this regard is the treatise of the young Edmund Burke (1729-97), who published A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful in 1757. In the 1760s and 1770s, it became fashionable to make tours in the English countryside and select picturesque scenery that could be either interpreted in water-colour or described in words. The most notable of these tourists was the Rev. William Gilpin (1724-1804), who maintained that 'roughness forms the most essential point of difference between the Beautiful and the Picturesque: as it seems to be that particular quality, which makes objects chiefly pleasing in painting' (Gilpin, 1792:6). Gilpin preferred the Lake District and sublime mountain scenes, but he admitted the need for man-made 'amenities' to add variety and sentiment to a scene. The picturesque ruin again became important, and the irregularity of its form, 'the stains of weather and the incrustations of moss' (Gilpin 1809:121) contributed to its effect.

The definition of the concepts: 'beauty', 'picturesque' and 'sublime', was further developed by Uvedale Price (1747-1828) and Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824). In 1794, Price wrote his Essay on the Picturesque where he defined 'picturesqueness' as appearing to hold a station between beauty and sublimity, being both blended with them and perfectly distinct. In his view, beauty and picturesque were founded on opposite qualities: 'the one on smoothness, the other on roughness; - the one on gradual, the other on sudden variation; - the one on ideas of youth and freshness, the other on that of age, and even of decay . . .' (Price, 1794). Price emphasized that the sublime was related to the greatness of dimension, and founded on the principles of awe and terror - never anything light or playful. The picturesque instead was characterized by intricacy and variety; it was not related to

Figure 3.1 Mediaeval ruins in Yorkshire, England

dimension, but depended on the shape and disposition of its boundaries.

As early as 1712, Lord Shaftesbury (16711713) had advocated the creation of a national taste and style based on the spirit of national freedom, a freedom resulting from the British constitutional government. Referring to the revolution of 1688, he sought for a balance of power within the nation, and wanted to make England the centre of 'liberal Arts'. Classicism in architecture and the English informal landscape garden both became expressions of this liberty and liberality, and symbols of the British constitution, as emphasized by William Mason (1725-97).12 These ideals were considered to be in opposition to the French absolutist government, characterized by the rococo style and formal garden layouts.

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