Scales of Landscape, 1750-1900

This panel invited contributions about the different scales —spatial, historical, social —at which landscape representation operated between 1750 and 1900. Natural historical thought in this period transited between, on the one hand, the minute and the infinitely small, and on the other, the unimaginably vast spans of planetary circulation and deep time. The project of landscape representation was likewise located across various scales of political and social organization: the local, the national, the imperial, and the multiple positions of communities at the edges of such spatial and political boundaries. And yet, beyond merely naming quantitative or comparative relationships, we can understand scale to designate an entire field of correspondences that encompass the structural and the pictorial. This panel aims to bring together work on landscape and the visual cultures of natural history in this period, in any medium and across geographic boundaries, which investigate this period’s fascination with the possibilities and the perils of the scalar imagination. 

Session Convenors: 

Stephanie O’Rourke, University of St Andrews 

Nicholas Robbins, University College London 


Victor dos Reis, University of Lisbon 

Colossal Landscapes: the sky beyond science and earthly experience 

Between 1750 and 1753, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) executed the largest painted ceiling ever made: a grandiose celestial machine measuring 677 square metres, which offers the viewer a panoramic view of the sky, presented as both a cosmic and a spiritual landscape. The painting on the ceiling of the staircase of the Würzburger Residenz (Würzburg, Germany), Apollo, the Planets and the Four Continents, is a grand and persuasive fiction, showing landscapes and figures of the earthly world, together with landscapes visually and symbolically far beyond the terrestrial world. Given its extraordinary nature, we can define this landscape as a combination between the sky as sidereal space, the macro extension of space ordered by the laws of physics, and the sky as spiritual space, existing outside the laws of science as an allegorical and symbolic space, governed by spiritual concepts and subjective laws. 

Tiepolo’s work is, in effect, a colossal landscape, not only in dimension but also in ambition, simultaneously natural and supernatural. It is one of the last examples of a type of visual landscape which goes back to the Renaissance, and which, after Correggio, would lead to the ceilings of the Counter Reformation. 

The present communication aims to analyse this and other ceilings of the second half of the eighteenth century as the last representatives of a pre-romantic category of paintings and landscape visions on a macro or telescopic scale. Overwhelming illusionistic representations of imaginary landscapes, painted on ceilings, vaults and domes, where the observer is transported to another world – a fictional world, at the same time scientifically improbable and perceptively convincing. 

Ting Chang,  University of Nottingham  

Touch and the Scalar Imagination 

I wish to examine an array of European representations of landscape, cityscape and geography produced in different sizes and materials that engaged with the scalar imagination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The objects of my analysis manifest such an engagement through their very co-existence: panoramic landscapes painted on 2,000 square metres of canvas and displayed in 360 degrees were coterminous with small optical devices made for home use, alongside world geography shown on playing cards, board games, and other ludic objects for children and adults alike. I suggest that a European imperial and global imagination underpinned and united the above examples, whose diversity of media and dimensions formed their didactic efficacy in inducing the viewer’s scalar imagination. The various shifts in (absolute) dimensions and (relational) scales allowed viewers to rehearse their own shifting positions in expanding global and imperial landscapes. Several factors enabled the viewers to dominate or otherwise inhabit the represented worlds: microscopic, telescopic, and other perspectives that engendered various postures and movements of the body; diverse media and ‘interpictoriality’; narration, silence and freely invented new narratives. By examining a range of objects usually categorised as ephemera and popular culture that oscillate in size, scale, media and representation, we consider how modern Europeans navigated their vastly expanding worlds through scalar and sensory imaginations. I argue, above all, that the smallness of fingers, hands and eyes set against the enormities of global and planetary scales were paradoxically vital to new correspondences and explorations. 

Kate Nichols, University of Birmingham 

Shrinking Scale: the global materials of Victorian painting and the disavowal of distance  

The geographical associations of materials sourced from distant locations (such as Lapis Lazuli) and used in European painting before c.1750, have often been understood as contributing to those artworks’ meanings and importance. By the late nineteenth century, a far larger scale of art material extraction, underpinned by colonial violence and expansion, spanned the globe: paint medium made of linseed oil from India and gum copal from Sierra Leone, for example, was readily purchased ready mixed from a range of artists’ ‘colourmen’ companies in London.  

This paper attends to the ways in which discourses surrounding paintings made in Victorian Britain, in contrast with their earlier counterparts, seem to have sublimated the vast geographies and colonial power dynamics that their materials embodied. It traces the geographical scope, ecologies, labour relations, and colonial power dynamics embodied by a range of pigments and mediums used in Briton Riviere’s 1895 painting Phoebus Apollo, which depicts Apollo driving a chariot pulled by lions across a Mediterranean landscape. It asks why Victorian artists and viewers appear not to have been interested in the broad geographical scales of the materials that made up such art works, when they were so interested in other geological and material scalar registers: and indeed the geographical significance of these substances when they were presented as ‘raw materials’ at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition. Finally, it reflects on the ethical, ecological and political motivations of current scholarship seeking to re-assert the global stories of nineteenth-century art materials.  

Manon Gaudet,  Yale University 

On Native Clays: The Rookwood Pottery Company, geological scale, and belonging 

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Rookwood Pottery Company produced an unusual collection of vases bearing underglaze slip-decorated portraits painted after photographs borrowed from the Bureau of American Ethnology. The resulting series of Indigenous portrait vases featured prominently in the company’s displays at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair and at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Coincident with the series, trade writers praised the company for their use of “native” clays, emphasizing that the Cincinnati-based pottery company used only natural resources derived from the Ohio Valley. Both “native” land and Indigenous bodies were thus made portable as decoration for the homes of white, American settlers. This paper considers how these portrait-bearing vessels challenge representational definitions of landscape through a geological scale that understands land not as -scape, but as material. Where earlier nineteenth-century landscape paintings deployed artistic techniques like linear perspective and picturesque conventions to impose order over, and predestine acquisition of, distant lands, these Rookwood vessels deploy the nativity of their clay as a possessive tool. Through the resonances of a geological timescale, these vases root white settler belonging to Ohio’s very ground, while relegating the territory’s original Indigenous stewards to the realm of surface decoration. Interrogating the slippage in the discourse of nativity, this paper also examines how the geographical and historical immensity of colonial possession in North America was re-scaled into a domestic object and into the intimate, albeit scientifically instrumentalized, form of portraiture. How did these scalar processes—geological, temporal, and dimensional—naturalize white possession at the expense of Indigenous peoples, and how might attending to these processes make opportunities to see how the materials and subjects resist? 

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