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Church Heart of the Andes

Heart of the Andes by Frederic Edwin Church, 1859

Classical landscape paintings are the topic of Merleau-Ponty’s “The World and Perception” talks. The world of art appears to be an especially inviting starting point in the world to explore humans’ varying perception. Merleau-Ponty (1948/2004) compares classical art using the “law of geometrical perspective” to the modern art of his time (e.g. paintings by Cézanne, Juan Gris, Braque, and Picasso). He writes that classical painters use the law of geometrical perspective, which arranges landscapes as they are presented “in a gaze directed at a particular vanishing point on the horizon” (p. 40). Yet, gazing into infinity is not how the world appears to us perceptually:

By subjecting all such details to this analytic vision, he fashions on the canvas a representation of the landscape, which does not correspond to any of the free visual impressions. This controls the movement of their unfolding yet also kills their trembling life. (p. 41)

Rather ironically, what seems to appear ‘abstract’ in cubist paintings, with multiple points of view meshed onto one canvas is actually closer to the way we perceive the world – always changing embodied relations through moments of time. The modern painters:

sought to recapture and reproduce before our very eyes the birth of landscape. They have been reluctant to settle for an analytic overview and have striven to recapture the feel of perceptual experience itself. Thus different areas of their painting are seen from different points of view. The lazy viewer will see ‘errors of perspective’ here, while those who look closely will get the feel of a world in which no two objects are seen simultaneously, a world in which regions of space are separated by the time it takes to move our gaze from one to the other, a world in which being is not given but rather emerges over time. (p. 41)

Look at the paintings below. Relating back to some of the cubist work, do you feel these “idealistic” landscapes, “controls the movement of their unfolding yet also kills their trembling life”?

La Vierge au Lapin à la Loupe

La Vierge au Lapin à la Loupe, 1525

The Harvesters by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565

The Harvesters by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565

One thought on “Classical “Idealized” Landscape Paintings

  1. Pingback: Indigenous Aboriginal (Australian) Art | Space & Perspective

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