Landscape and Western Art (pages 53-75)
Locus amoenus means ‘pleasant place’ and was a phrase to try and describe the relationship between the natural world and landscaping. A ‘pleasant place’ is supposed to be naturally crafted. It’s a balance between two opposites: wanting to cultivate the land and letting it grow freely. However landscapers and architects finally accomplish this goal, the product always ends up being a beautiful oxymoron.
The popularity of ‘pleasant places’ has spanned from Renaissance era to today. Villas built on the sides of hills allowed Italians to ‘frame’ the countryside as though nature itself was a work of art. Villa culture created a new form of art as well as a new way of life. “Pliny’s way of suggesting the extraordinary beauty of the real landscape is to make it seem more the product of art than nature… Pliny’s description confers a high value on the visual experience of landscape afforded by the villa” (59). The influence of villas extended past architecture and later evolved into painting and literature.
For example, many landscape portraits have tried to imitate the villa’s careful dance between the exterior and the interior. Landscape frescos tried to merge human and nature onto the interior walls of palaces. It many cases locus amoenus reigned especially, andit was hard to see where the room ended and where nature picked up. No matter how beautiful the artwork, it was still not enough just to look at a painting to capture the meaning of locus amoenus. Leonardo da Vinci suggested that “…your soul could not enjoy the pleasures that come to it through the eyes”; it’s the experience that is therapeutic and not the painting (63).
In 18th century England, gardening became the new locus amoenus. Alexander Pope recommended that gardens try to create an ‘artful wildness’. From this we see the trend where English homes are surrounded by overgrowing yet intentional gardening. Letting the plants grow freely, one virtually eliminated the line between garden and landscape. Though visually the wild and the domestic were one is the same, “these were carefully managed scenes, designed to look natural, but actually contrived on a vast scale” (70).
Locus amoenus has changed a great deal over the years, but the theme is the same, uniting the natural and human elements to create a pleasant and therapeutic experience.