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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Architectural Landscape

Man & Nature

Palatine from Circus Maximus, 2006
Max Gillies has an article in the January/February issue of Fine Art Connoisseur, “When Architecture and Art Converge”, that features a number of contemporary plein air artists particularly interested in architecture. Among them is my friend Victor Deupi, like me a classical architect as well as artist. The article’s last illustration is my painting of the Palatine from across the Circus Maximus, one of those surprisingly rare views in Rome that hasn’t changed much since Corot’s day.

While Italy affords spectacular landscapes up and down the peninsula and on its islands, it seems to me at least that what makes working here uniquely appealing is the poignant relationship of landscape and architecture. It part it is designed to be so: villas and their gardens, churches and cloisters, villages and hillsides were in fact considered with respect to each other, complementing one another with the common structure of classical geometry. But there is also the aspect of entropy that artists like Fragonard and Hubert Robert reveled, that visually compelling effect of Nature taking over again those things that Man had imposed on her—crumbling stone walls, overgrown trees invading courtyards, fountains covered in moss; these are things never intended by the original creators, but are tolerated and perhaps even appreciated by later inhabitants. In both cases Italy is unmatched for the abundance of paintable settings. But it is also worth musing on, as previous cultures have, what it all means: the power of geometry to give structure to our world, the tension between formal order and natural form, the relentless power of Nature to push back on our interventions, the strange appeal of decay.

at the Villa Lante, Bagnaia, September 2012
Good landscape paintings have structure, and nothing so deliberately structures our world as architecture. While one may stumble upon happy accidents in a wholly natural environment (views that capture our imagination and compel us to capture them), I find it even more natural that we would use human interventions as the underpinnings of a painting’s compositional structure. Nature civilized, made even more beautiful because of human effort, was what artists formed in the classical crucible always found most appealing. And especially when landscape documentation served primarily as prelude to studio paintings of more “elevated” subjects did a judicious juxtaposition of the natural and manmade serve to inform the figurative compositions overlaid upon it.

A tutti coloro che dipingono all'aperto in Italia, vi auguro un
Buon Anno.

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