Renaissance and Reformation Landscape
Nils Büttner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0219


This article concentrates primarily on landscape art and the visual depiction of natural scenery. It took a long time before the term “landscape” gained acceptance as the name of a painting genre. It first came into general use during the course of the 17th century, though as early as 1521, Albrecht Dürer had referred to his Antwerp colleague Joachim Patinir as a “gut landschafft mahler” (“good landscape painter”). The term became commonly used by 1604, when Karel von Mander used it in the prequel poem to his Schilder-Boeck (“painter-book”) for young painters, where he dedicated a whole chapter to landscape. The first landscape paintings originate from a time long before panel painting and its generic terminology were established. Among ancient wall paintings, many landscape images have survived. Furthermore, there is at least some literary evidence for the existence of antique panel paintings, for example in the work of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio; in particular the Vitruvian ideal of decorating interiors with “topia,” or evocations of places, which was postulated in his De architectura libri X (Book 7, chapter 5, Parts 1–3) exerted an important influence on early modern art. Examples can be found in the landscape paintings alleged to Studius (or Ludius), mentioned in Gaius Plinius Secundus’ work Naturalis historia (Book 35, chapters 116–117) Apart from chorographia, usually translated as “depictions of specific geographical regions or nations,” the locus amoenus, or “pleasant place” or idyll, was one of the most popular subjects in both secular and sacred contexts. From ancient times landscape images have combined esthetic pleasure with allegorical reference. Landscape paintings were used to depict geographical regions based on explorers’ interest, but could also be instrumentalized to legitimize claims of ownership, which may be the reason why landscape murals retained their unbroken popularity as a decorative element until the early modern period of privileges and power claims, landscape images have ornately decorated the palaces of the mighty from the Middle Ages to modern times. Yet landscape motifs also played an important role in the privileged imagistic media of tapestries and book and calendar illustration. Especially in the field of court art, the whole range of functional and receptional contexts noted from the era of antiquity onward remained alive. Thus, landscape imagery in panel painting remained a form of art in its own right and was in no way limited to merely forming the backgrounds of sacred history paintings.

General Overviews

Büttner 2006, Andrews 1999, and Crandell 1993 provide comprehensive overviews of the historic development of the pictorial genre. A very good introduction to its theory and methods is offered in DeLue and Elkins 2008. The elementary texts Friedländer 1949 and Clark 1949 deal with questions of historical development, which have taken the works of Pochat 1973 and Eberle 1979 as their point of origin for deeper historical research. Hunt 1992 and Lauterbach 2004 focus on the related subject areas of cultivated landscapes of gardens.

  • Andrews, Malcolm. Landscape and Western Art. Oxford History of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    The volume examines countless ideas and samples of the landscape image repertoire which has developed in Western culture from early modern times onward. Panel painting is taken into account, as well as gardening, poetry, photography, garden design and cartography. The “Bibliographic Essay,” which forms the last chapter, is especially useful.

  • Büttner, Nils. Landscape Painting: A History. New York: Abbeville, 2006.

    This comprehensive monograph takes into account recent theories while offering a comprehensive overview of two thousand years of landscape painting in Europe from antique times to the beginning of the 20th century, which also marks the end of the era of landscape painting. The bibliography provides an overview on the artists in alphabetical order as well as a chronological registry. For a detailed review, see Michael J. Lewis, “The Ley of the Land,” The New Criterion 26 (2007): 67.

  • Clark, Kenneth. Landscape into Art. London: John Murray, 1949.

    Concerning his theses on the development of landscape painting, Clark’s book is to be regarded as outdated. Yet his classic and interesting account on how landscapes have been appreciated and represented in artists still provides the necessary terminology for a theoretical discourse on landscape as an esthetic phenomenon.

  • Crandell, Gina. Nature Pictorialized: The View in Landscape History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

    In another historical overview from the era of antiquity to the late 19th century, the author examines the impact of literature and landscape art on the general appreciation of the environment. The well-written work offers an extensive bibliography.

  • DeLue, Rachael Ziady, and James Elkins, eds. Landscape Theory. Vol. 6, The Art Seminar. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    An interdisciplinary introduction in the best sense of the word, this work offers an overview on numerous methodological approaches, which are so diverse that it is hardly possible to detect a unified research approach.

  • Eberle, Matthias. Individuum und Landschaft. zur Entstehung und Entwicklung der Landschaftsmalerei. Giessen, West Germany: Anabas-Verlag, 1979.

    This dissertation is still widely quoted today and places previous theses and research on the development of landscape painting in the context of materialistic aestheticism. On the threshold between the Middle Ages and the early modern age, Eberle identifies alienation from nature and division of labor as constitutive elements for a new perspective on nature, which he perceives to be essential to the development of landscape art.

  • Friedländer, Max J. Landscape, Portrait, Still-Life: Their Origin and Development. Oxford: Cassirer, 1949.

    In this fundamental work, art history received a new context with the interpretation that landscape as an aesthetic phenomenon has to be seen separately from the geographic point of view on the earth and its surface. Originally published as Essays über die Landschaftsmalerei und andere Bildgattungen (The Hague: A. A. M. Stols, 1947).

  • Hunt, John Dixon, ed. Garden History: Issues, Approaches, Methods. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1992.

    The editor of this volume is one of the leading experts in landscape architectural theory and the development of garden design. This collection of essays introduces the issues, methods and approaches that have been developed in the field of garden history and landscape design; it remains unmatched in its wide perspective on garden history and theory.

  • Lauterbach, Christiane M. Gärten der musen und grazien: Mensch und natur im niederländischen Humanistengarten, 1522–1655. Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2004.

    Lauterbach is less concerned with the description of actual gardens than on the Renaissance view of the surrounding natural landscape. The numerous contemporary sources, which illustrate the thought of the time, make the book a particularly relevant touchstone of garden history.

  • Pochat, Götz. Figur und Landschaft: Eine historische interpretation der Landschaftsmalerei von der Antike bis zur Renaissance. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1973.

    Due to its impressive amount of source material and quoted literature on the subject, this extensive and intelligent work is a useful reference guide, even though the thesis that landscape painting developed from religious history painting is now seen as outdated.

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