The Development of the ‘Picturesque’ in Landscape Gardening – Introduction

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of 17th Century Amsterdam

The ‘Picturesque’ figures predominantly in 18th century British landscape debate. In terms of gardening and design theory, the ‘Picturesque’ evolves from the transition in the formal gardens of earlier Renaissance and Baroque landscapes[1] to greater informality and natural characteristics, evidenced in the British countryside and merited for its own distinctively rugged beauty. Christopher Hussey defined the ‘Picturesque’ aesthetically as visual qualities found in nature[2] and David Watkin remarks on ‘the primacy of pictorial values’[3]. Frequently compared to the qualities of painted scenery, this focus of naturalism entered into aesthetic theory and discussion: Formally, this can be associated with the works of Sir Uvedale Price (An essay on the picturesque, as compared with the sublime and the beautiful, 1794), Richard Payne Knight (An analytical inquiry into the principles of taste, 1805) and Humphry Repton (Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, 1795), whose books and practises informed the direction of ‘Picturesque’ garden design.


In order to understand the ‘Picturesque’ in the history of landscape gardening, one must consider gardening as a facet of the arts: along the humanist line, this can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome and a classical preoccupation with ‘the pleasures of country life’[4]. Lucia H. Albers allows that ‘it was not until the eighteenth century that it became customary […] to view gardening as one of the arts’[5], however, in this particular debate, eminent philosopher Cicero had already considered the ‘virtuous’ nature of this pursuit and that it was to be seen as one of the ‘fitting pastimes for a gentleman’[6].


Garden of a Pompeian House

Pliny the Younger, for example cites the existence of formal gardens at villas, ‘one close to the sea at Laurentum […] and the other in the mountains on Umbria’[7], in his letters. Garden design combined the ‘useful’[8] and the ‘pleasant’[9] and, given this balance, became a key consideration in architectural practises. This can be supported by Alberti’s book on architecture, which, published in 1452 in Florence, had a basis in classical sources and particularly the literature of Vitruvius on architecture: Both writers include notes on gardens and Alberti is meticulous in citing the proper design protocol when building a house and garden[10]. Credit is given to gardening and there is a continuation in this sentiment, with Jan van der Groen, writing in his Den Nederlandschen hovenier (1675):

‘The ancient Romans were the first to give their pleasure gardens a well organised form; these imitated by the Italians; from there the pleasant pursuit spread through the whole of Europe some novelties being introduced from time to time; but France surpassed all other countries in this delightful pursuit.’[11]


Hampton Court Palace, Grand Garden, Baroque Style.

Groen charts the development and endurance of gardening as a formal activity, practised among ‘aficionados’[12] who produced notable exemplars. It was in the 17th century especially that this attitude prevailed, when gardening was associated with the arts and scientists, thus requiring a certain rationale. When considering gardening as art, Albers includes the high notes of the ‘great gardens’[13], such as those executed under William III in Baroque England. This informs us, in the case of country houses, why those of wealth were intent on creating gardens: From the ideology of beauty in gardening and architecture, which came from their role of appreciating the arts.

Thank You-2

Prince Albert: Patron & Collector – Taste, Influence and Personal Preferencehere…
Prince Albert: Patron & Collector – Supporting the Efforts of Artists and Innovators here…
Prince Albert: Patron & Collector – A Curatorial Character here…

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Sources Used: 

[1] V. Sellers, ‘Gardens of Western Europe, 1600-1800’, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Metropolitan Museum of 1 Art Online [n.d], [accessed 2018].

[2] A. Ross, The Imprint of the Picturesque on Nineteenth-century British Fiction (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986), p. 44.

[3] S. Ross, ‘The Picturesque: An Eighteenth-Century Debate’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 46, No. 2, 1987, pp. 271-279.

[4] D. Matz, Voices of Ancient Greece and Rome: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life (ABC-CLIO, 2012), p. 7

[5] L. H. Albers, ‘The Perception of Gadening as Art’, Garden History, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1991, p. 163.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] G. Walters, ‘A Little Chaos at Versailles’,, 02 April, 2015 (n.d.), [accessed 2018].

[11] Albers, ‘Gardening as Art’, p. 165

[12] Albers, ‘Gardening as Art’, p. 164.

[13] Ibid.

3 thoughts on “The Development of the ‘Picturesque’ in Landscape Gardening – Introduction

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