After the 17th century, the sacred art of the academies, the baroque, declined. Landscape however, is an aspect of baroque art that not only did not decline, but actually developed in a way that was true to the original principles right through to the end of the 19th century. I will outline the basic form of landscape that established in the 17th century.
The form of the baroque landscape is based upon an assumption that mankind is the greatest of God’s creatures and has a uniquely privileged position within it. The rest of creation is made by God, so that we might know him through it. Creation’s beauty calls us to itself and then beyond, to the Creator. Man is made to apprehend the beauty of creation.
To illustrate, I quote from a section of Psalm 148: ‘Praise the Lord from the earth, sea creatures and all oceans, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy winds that obey his word; all mountains and hills, all fruit trees and cedars…’
None of these aspects of God’s creation is capable of responding to call of the psalm literally. The ‘praise’ is not theirs, but ours. Their beauty inspires and directs our praise. This is one purpose for it. The natural world is not just a collection of atoms conforming to the laws of physics and chemistry. All that it does, through grace, is in conformity to its divine purpose. Having said that, we live in a fallen world. Creation is beautiful yet, amazingly, because of the Fall, it is not as beautiful as it ought to be.
When man interacts with creation (when farming or gardening, for example) he should remember this part its divine purpose and so his work with it should be beautiful too, serving to restore it more fully to fulfillment of what it was meant to be. This is why farmland is profoundly natural and when we farm well (as with anything done well) the result is beautiful.
Once this is accepted then the Christian artist who is painting the landscape should seek to reveal all these truths about Creation. As with all art this is done by consideration of both the content and the form.
The baroque landscape artist, just as I described in my piece about still lives – here – paints in such as way that it gives us information in the way that we naturally look to (Read More)