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The Elegiac Landscape

30 Credits

This course offers a wide-ranging introduction to the elegiac landscape. It covers a period that starts in c.1750 and finishes in 2015, and aims to survey a particular type of landscape and the way it has been represented in European visual arts. We will study the aesthetics of decay and destruction, modern memorial culture, funerary design and monumentalism against the backdrop of Empire and Enlightenment, Romantic literature and philosophy, and the upheavals of nationalist struggles that resulted in modern warfare and industry. The elegiac landscape – which is both a physical landscape as well as a representation in visual culture – is bound up with ideas about transience, memory and sentiment. This course will investigate how the elegiac mode (hitherto the domain of poetry and literature) was transposed into landscape and into the representation of landscape in art.

The course will focus on a range of visual media: painting, prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs, films, sculpture and architecture. Central to the course is the depiction of ruins in landscapes. Visual material ranges from the prints of Piranesi to the depiction of landscape in examples as diverse as the films of Alexandre Sokurov and the photographs of Tacita Dean. Alongside art, we will be examining the modern commemorative and/or funerary landscape as it evolved out of the eighteenth century; thus the ‘elegiac landscape’ also encompasses such quasi-Romantic or quasi-Arcadian places as Alexandre Lenoir’s Elysian Musée and Wordsworth’s winter garden at Coleorton Hall. It extends to the changing face of nineteenth- century Venice as lamented in the illustrations of John Ruskin and to the conception of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta. While a broad range of primary source documents will be analyzed (literary representations of landscape in prose or poetry), emphasis will be on how these texts enable us to make sense of visual practices. We will assess the extent to which ‘landscape’ is invested with mournful or memorial functions, investigate how changing ideas about death and loss have been inscribed within landscape and interrogate the moral, social and aesthetic reasons that animate this type of aesthetic.