From Back to Front: The development of Landscape Painting in the Italian Renaissance.
The academic hierarchy of artistic genres accorded a lowly position to landscape painting. It was “a servant to other pieces”. Landscape was a way of “filling up the empty corners”. And for Michelangelo, it was painting suitable for “young women, monks, nuns, or certain noble persons who have no ear for true harmony”.
While ‘pure’ landscape painting developed to a much fuller extent in Northern Europe, the landscapes of Italian Renaissance painting served far subtler and deeper purposes. Forming the background to the principal subject matter, landscapes introduced poetic, classical and religious ideas about the relationship between humanity and nature, the city and the country and engagement with or withdrawal from social norms. Under the cover of an apparently anodyne backdrop, important concepts are brought to the fore. As these ideas developed and became adopted into the intellectual mainstream during the Renaissance, so the status of landscape art changed. The background became the foreground.
Lecture given to Artistory, Norwich in March 2017