The landscape of solitude: encountering images of contemplation in Western landscape painting



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Texas Tech University


A multitude of notable landscape painters in the West frequently directed their themes and styles towards a particular notion, that is, the idea of solitude. The earnest undertaking to represent solitude, both as a state of mind and a physical setting, has evolved into a distinct genre in landscape painting with its corresponding iconography and iconology. Traditional style analysis tends to overlook this phenomenon. The dissertation infroduces the concept of the Landscape of Solitude to investigate images of isolation, silence, and contemplation that were recurrent occurrences throughout the history of landscape painting. The landscape of solitude offers a new mode of access for both the artist and the viewer to the realm of ideas, linking more dfrectly the eye and the mind, the real and the ideal. Through this concept, one can frace the vital developments that fransformed landscape from a subject that tended to be topographical to one that could be a medium for human thoughts and sentiments. The dissertation fraces the origin of the concept of solitude in art back to the ancient notion of Arcadia of the Golden Age and to the Biblical Eden, and a presentation of the genre. It examines the continuum of artists from Venetian Renaissance to the Claudian pastoral and up to the nineteenth century. Artists discussed include Claude Lorrain, Corot, Richard Wilson, Joseph Wright, Gainsborough, John Constable, and Friedrich, all of whom have contributed significantly to the fundamental structure of landscape paintings of solitude. The dissertation shows that characteristics of melancholia, nostalgia, and loneliness typify the landscape of solitude, as do specific symbolic elements, both organic and man-made, which the artists deliberately inserted or removed from their paintings. It relates specific paintings to both the iconology and the iconography of landscapes of solitude. It sheds a historical, cultural, and political lens on the artworks, illuminating their role in varying the stylistic approach to porfraying solitude. For artists and critics, this implies a new appreciation of the relationship between landscape painting and the ever-growing fascination with solitude. The dissertation infroduces contemporary thinkers to the existence of a widespread interest in the spiritual and philosophical issues of solitude that pervades the history of European landscape painting.