I’ve just started reading this marvelous and marvelously written book about the history of the English landscape: not how it came to be, but how people have thought about it and looked at it since the Romantic era, when people began traveling to look at landscape. At the time philosophers came up with ideas about landscape, and rules for viewing it properly, that still influence us today.

Notice the sheep. On a visit last week to the Hudson Valley, where we toured the homes of Frederick Church and Thomas Cole, two major Hudson River School painters, I was most struck not by the beauty of the landscape but by the absence of sheep! In the eighteenth century, people viewed landscape under the influence of the contrast between the sublime and the beautiful, an idea promulgated in a seminal philosophical treatise by Edmund Burke in 1757. A rugged landscape dominated by mountains, waterfalls, and windblown trees exemplifies the sublime. A pastoral landscape dominated by gentle hills and pastures exemplifies the beautiful. The Hudson River School painters were most interested in conveying the majesty of nature–the sublime–while the English idea of landscape, although appreciative of sublimity in nature, tended to focus on the beautiful (think of the contrast between Constable and Turner). And to include lots of sheep.


Landscape in Derbyshire, with sheep.

(And if you share my appreciation for sheep, check out Google Sheep View. Almost every day you can view sheep doing their thing in some beautiful corner of the world.)


View from Olana, home of Hudson River School painter Frederick Church, without sheep.


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