Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art

The natural landscape as a whole in the history of art

We call natural landscape to one that is not modified by society, despite some small enclaves. These are lands that do not belong to the ecumene , the polar regions and some high mountain rainforest. Nowadays this natural space almost does not exist.

A natural landscape.

In the natural environment the individual is at the mercy of natural conditions and their own biology; So try to modify it.

The natural landscape is a journey but not organized space, and low population densities. These are the areas occupied by societies of collectors, hunters and fishermen who have a very intimate and specialized knowledge of the environment. The area needed to procure the resources must be very broad as they depend on what nature offers.

The concept “landscape” has evolved a lot in the course of history. At first it was closely related to artistic expressions, to join in the nineteenth century to the interest aroused by natural areas and their integral study.

According to González Bernáldez (1981) in our days there are two types of meanings of the term:

• The image (perceived, printed, etc.) of a territory

• The set of elements of a territory related to each other, easily delimitable and visible. It is, therefore, a theoretical elaboration on the content of the image

Integrated landscape.

In both cases the image is considered as a whole or through its elements. The components of the landscape are characterized by being clearly manifested, easily observable, thus appearing one of the defining characteristics of the landscape: its perceptibility, not only visual but multisensorial. Thus, Diaz Pineda (1973) defines the landscape as “plurisensorial perception of a system of ecological relations”.

The second type of meaning of the term implies a global and interrelated consideration of all elements, both natural and anthropogenic , that make up the landscape. It is the so-called “integrated landscape theory”, perspective from which definitions appear as:

• Landscape is not the simple sum of separate geographic elements, but is – for a certain spatial surface – the result of dynamic, sometimes unstable combinations of physical, biological and anthropological elements, which dialectically intertwined, make the landscape a A unique body, indivisible, in perpetual evolution “(Bertrand, 1968).

• Landscape is the result of the aggregation of the physical characteristics of the physical environment, of the physical features of the biotic medium plus the physical footprint of the (until a few years ago) slow human transformation “(Gómez Orea, 1985).

Thus, those that, in our view, are characteristic features and defining the concept of “landscape” are included:

• It must be perceived

• It integrates a set of elements, both visible and non visible, of natural and anthropic origin

• It is a dynamic element, in continuous evolution and transformation

The landscape: a dynamic element

The landscape is dynamic.

The landscape is in constant evolution as a consequence of:

• Natural dynamic processes of the biotic environment (evolution of vegetation, colonization, substitution, etc.) and the abiotic environment (erosive or sedimentary processes, changes in river courses, glacial processes, etc.)

• Anthropic processes: breaking, logging, transformation of land uses, installation of infrastructures, etc.

We must consider that man is an element of nature, linked to it by ties of interdependence, making it an integral part of ecosystems. Their role in them is very active, especially in the last centuries, when the technology developed allows interventions on the environment previously impossible, which has increased and accelerated the processes of anthropic transformation of this, and therefore the evolution of landscapes .

Each of the aforementioned media (biotic, abiotic and anthropic) will have different specific weight in each unit of landscape, establishing among them a series of relationships and interdependencies that give unity to the whole and determine its evolution. The evolutionary dynamics of the indicated processes are developed according to very different time scales: there are short cycle dynamics and there are long cycle dynamics:

Short Cycle:

• In the abiotic environment: landslides, certain transformations in the fluvial environment, falls of blocks, etc.

• In the biotic environment: death of individuals as a result of landslides, fires or fall of other individuals, change in populations due to pests or diseases, etc.

Long cycle:

A riverbed tends to stabilize on its own.

Long cycle dynamics often tend to restore the lost equilibrium as a consequence of short cycle dynamics or human intervention. They are, therefore, self-organizing processes that tend to bring the whole to more stable stages:

• In the abiotic environment: regularization of slopes, stabilization of riverbeds, or coasts, etc.

• In the biotic environment: plant colonization, substitutions or changes in plant and animal species as a consequence of climate change, etc.

Anthropogenic interventions often cause short-cycle changes: felling, clearing, changes in land use, fires caused, installation of communication infrastructures, etc. These rapid changes trigger processes of adaptation and reorganization of the natural environment, both biotic and abiotic, in most cases of long cycle: plant recolonization in burned or cut areas, progressive invasion of infrastructure by vegetation and deposited materials, stabilization Of slopes, etc.

Both long-cycle and short-cycle processes of abiotic, biotic and anthropogenic interventions strongly interrelate. Thus, for example, a slope (short cycle process of the abiotic environment) can cause a destruction of the vegetation cover (short cycle of the biotic medium) and unleash the processes of colonization (long cycle of the abiotic environment).

Forest fire: short and long term processes.

A forest fire (short-cycle anthropogenic intervention) will cause a series of erosive and soil loss processes (abiotic medium, long cycle) which in turn will influence the rapidity and effectiveness of natural revegetation (biotic medium, long cycle ) That will start after him.

The landscape is, in short, something alive that evolves temporarily as a result of natural processes and anthropic interventions or the cessation of these, as has happened in recent years in large areas of mid-mountain or depressed counties.

Therefore, it should not be considered a static phenomenon that can be locked in a momentary image, but as something in permanent evolution, what has been defined as “landscape metabolism”.

Quality, subjectivity and preferences

The concept of quality of a landscape is related to the greater or less presence of aesthetic values, which is subject to a strong subjectivity. Nevertheless, systematic schemes have been developed to evaluate the quality of a landscape, among them we can mention the one realized by M. Escribano et al. (1987). As proposed, the aesthetic valuation of a landscape includes the valuation of three elements of perception:

• The intrinsic visual quality of the point from which the observation is made. The values ​​are constituted by natural aspects (morphological, vegetation, presence of water, etc.)

Quality of the landscape need more explanation?

• The visual quality of the immediate environment. It evaluates the natural characteristics observed up to a distance of about seven hundred meters, indicating the possibility of observing visually attractive elements

• The quality of the scenic background. It evaluates the quality of the visual background of the landscape considering aspects such as altitude, vegetation, water and geological singularities

The quality of the presence of the elements indicated may be reduced by the presence of negative elements indicating degradation, such as burned surfaces, heavily eroded areas, dirty rivers or lakes, or by the presence of negative visual impact infrastructures such as Urbanizations, gravel, open pit, electric lines, ski trails, etc.

The mentioned systematization to evaluate the quality of a landscape can be useful to establish comparisons, but never to arrive at closed or definitive conclusions, because the subjectivity and the personal experiences determine to a large extent the personal preferences.

Landscapes according to the dominant elements

All landscape is dominated by three types of elements: abiotic , biotic and anthropic . The ratio between them is very diverse. These three elements are interrelated, so that the modification of one affects the rest.

The landscape evolves over time, so its classification may be valid for a while, but not permanently. The landscapes would be classified in:

• Landscapes with practically exclusive predominance of a single group of elements

• Landscapes with dominance of one type of elements over others belonging to other groups

• Landscapes resulting from the combination of three groups of hierarchical elements or similarities of dominance.

A sudden change in the classification of a landscape can be caused by:

• A natural occurrence: a fire, a landslide, a serious flood, the advance and recolonization of the vegetation in a devastated area, etc.

• Human intervention: urbanization, construction of infrastructures, land consolidation, scrapping, reforestation, etc.

Not always an intervention is a landscape pollution . The term pollution is reserved for deep and rapid interventions that cause a serious visual impact and an evident loss of quality of the landscapes. In general, pollution is characterized by the presence of anthropic elements to the detriment of biotic or abiotic species, although it may also mean the introduction of strange biotic elements (repopulations with exotic species) or the removal of singular abiotic elements.


Visual elements of the natural environment

The landscape is, in short, the whole natural environment around the activities of man and other living beings.

Textures and contrast in a landscape.

The basic visual elements

When a person observes their environment, they can perceive most what their vision captures; Therefore, direct reference is made here to the visual elements that the human being is capable of grasping. It can be said that “The landscape understood as a set of territorial units with different properties and characteristics, can be analyzed and defined through the following visual elements”.

According to the classification established by Maria Escribano in their publications of the Ministry of Public Works of Spain (MOPU), the main visual elements are: the shape , the texture , and theline and contrast , and finally the color , as a complement to all of them. The above in a landscape in which the environment is analyzed in detail.

Form : the form of the element or surface. The regular geometric forms are due to anthropic elements, in nature there are more irregular elements.

Texture : they are variations that exist on the surface of the elements of the landscape and are always relative, depending on the distance between observer-landscape, if we are far appear soft and fine textures, go closer to thicken. It has two characteristics, grain and contrast.

Line : When several points are close create the feeling of creating the line direction as an extension of the direction of a point.

Contrast : is the diversity of colors and brightness on the surface (as in tomentosas plant varieties)

Color : The ability of a surface to reflect light.

The color is characterized by:

• Tint: is the amount of color

• Tone: which can be light or dark

• Brightness: matt or glossy colors, also called metallic

Landscape components

In addition to establishing the visual elements that make up the landscape, it is exposed how a landscape is shaped according to the different natural or artificial elements. Several authors call them, for practical purposes, as the Landscape Components and group them into four broad areas:

The earth.

Caldera cliffs, north coast of Chile, facing the Pacific.

It is possible to observe through this component of the landscape the relief, the textures and the different materials of the terrain, as well as the evolution of the conformation of the terrestrial surface of that environment.

In the tropical coasts of the Pacific there is a great peculiarity as regards the conformation of the beaches. Through several hundred kilometers the relief is quite bumpy. In the cross section we can see an area of ​​wide beach in which immediately afterwards a mountain range extends along the continent of Central and North America.


This component of the landscape has quite a peculiarity since, as is imagined, the presence of this element in the environment is essential for any way of life. It also brings aesthetic elements that revalue the landscape at a high level. When referring to a landscape that is located on the coast, it is feasible also to find numerous rivers and lagoons that are related to the ocean. Consequently, the singularity of the landscape obtained by the existence of bodies of water is considered very important.

The vegetation.

It is another vital component in the landscape, since in itself provides great variety in the color and texture within the natural or artificial environment. In the tropical coastal zone of the Pacific exists a great variety of vegetation, that goes from several species of palm trees to other varieties of trees with dense foliage and exuberant mostly of perennial leaves. With this, the vegetation habitat of this environment is formed. There may also be some deciduous trees.

Tropical coastal vegetation in anthropic environment.

Finally, structures or artificial elements are inevitable components in the landscape. Because they are the manifestation of the intervention of the man on his environment, which are represented by buildings of a housing type or multiple uses such as tourist centers, housing or offices, as well as facilities, infrastructures and services That these entail.

What is really important in this analysis is to consider the form, the materials and the constructive systems with which a future intervention will be carried out within a specific landscape, taking into account its typology, with which it is possible to achieve the global integration of the Architecture to the natural environment. Precisely the above will depend on the conservation, improvement or deterioration of the visual and environmental value of the natural landscape.

The visual comfort

The way in which the user communicates with the environment that surrounds him is or may become different. This, if one takes into account the intervisibility with the exterior that surrounds it. The following aspects give a clearer idea of ​​how these relationships with the environment can be.

Within an environment of recreation in which its natural landscape propitiates by itself the relaxation of the visitors, this one plays a primordial paper. If they are analyzed from the landscape point of view the size and position of the windows, which in the particular case are the connection element with the exterior, can determine the visual comfort.

To do this it is necessary to take into consideration three fundamental aspects:

• The first is the Visual Opening, which is the relationship that exists between the user and what he observes towards the outside.

• The Visual Domain, which consists of the specific area that the user is able to observe at a given time, if that element is of interest.

Openness, mastery and visual privacy.

• Finally, there is the Visual Privacy, since having the previous two is necessary to have more or less wide windows or spans, but at the same time it is important to have the possibility to isolate in certain situations of greater privacy that the user requires, Which is achieved by means of blinds, curtains, or what is more interesting, through outside vegetation strategically placed in a way that allows the user to have a view of the landscape, but at the same time prevents pedestrians from having access to the interior views Of the building.

Openness, mastery and visual privacy represent the elements necessary to obtain visual comfort within the landscape. Although some aspects of visual privacy were already mentioned when talking about vegetation, they only dealt with the aspect of the use of vegetation as an element of architectural design.

Once the components of the landscape are established, as well as the study of the different ways of visualizing the environment, it is feasible to make an assessment of the environment that allows a future adequate intervention, that does not impact in a negative way those green elements that, besides being indispensable Enrich the spiritual life.

The natural landscape in painting

The art of landscapes pictorially depicts scenes from nature, such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers and forests. Sky is almost always included in the view, and time is usually an element of composition. Traditionally, the art of landscapes shapes the surface of the earth, but there may be other types of landscapes, such as those inspired by Daniel Tyrrell landscapes dreams. More examples below:

Landscape, by Joachim Patinir.

In Western painting, the landscape was gradually becoming increasingly important, as background pictures of another kind (such as history painting or portrait ) to establish itself as an independent genre in seventeenth – century Holland.

Within the hierarchy of genres , the landscape occupied a very low place, superior only to still life . (A still life, also known as still life, is a painting depicting lifeless objects in a particular space, such as game animals, fruits, flowers, kitchen utensils, tableware or household items, antiques, etc.)

Landscape classes

Because of the way in which the theme of the landscape is dealt with, three fundamental types can be distinguished:

1. The “cosmic” or “sublime” landscape, in which wild nature is presented, immense landscapes that do not necessarily represent real places, and in which man feels lost. Within this line would be the “naturalistic landscape” that reflects a grandiose nature, abundant and wild, in which appear atmospheric phenomena like storms. It is typical of the artists of northern Europe, such as Dürer, Elsheimer or Friedrich.

2. Nature “dominated” by man, as in the Flemish or Dutch landscape. The presence of man makes nature not seem threatening. Many times it ends up being a “topographical landscape”, which necessarily represents a precise and identifiable place, with a nature presented in the most humble way. Patinir, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, or Dutch masters of the seventeenth century can be mentioned in this line.

Naturalistic landscape.

3. Nature “colonized” by man, which is typical of the Italian landscape. There are cultivated fields of relief, hills, valleys and plains with houses, canals, roads and other human constructions; Nature is no longer a threat, but man has also made it his own.

Within this type of landscape one can speak of the “classical landscape”, where an ideal, grandiose nature is represented. The representation is not credible, but recomposed to sublimate nature and present it perfect.

In this type of landscape a story usually hides. It is topical the presence of elements of Roman architecture, combined with a mountain or a hill and with a plane of water. This type of “ideal landscape” was created by Annibale Carracci, followed by Albano, Domenichino and the French Poussin. The Italian landscape was preferred for centuries because it was the place where artists traveled from all over Europe and where they were formed.

From another point of view, referring to the subject that is represented and not so much to the way in which it is treated, it is necessary to differentiate between:

• Marinas in compositions that show oceans, seas or beaches.

• River landscape compositions with rivers or streams.

• Stellar landscapes or cloudy landscapes are representations of clouds, weather formations and atmospheric conditions.

• Lunar landscapes show landscapes of the moon’s vision on earth.

• Cityscapes show cities.

• Hardscape or hard landscapes, in which areas are represented as paved streets and large business complexes or industries.

Marina, by Thomas Moran.

• Aerial or ethereal landscape, showing the land surface seen from above, especially from airplanes or spacecraft. When the point of view is very pronounced down, the sky is not appreciated. This genre can be combined with others, such as the cloudy ethereal art of Georgia O’Keeffe, the ethereal lunar landscape of Nancy Graves or the urban ethereal landscape of Yvone Jacquette.

• A dream landscape, in landscape-like compositions (usually surreal or abstract) that seek to express the psychoanalytic view of the mind as a three-dimensional space.


In the days of the most ancient Chinese paintings in ink, the tradition of “pure” landscapes was established, in which the tiny human figure simply invites the observer to participate in the experience.

From the ancient Egypt some schematic landscape representations are conserved in the tombs of the nobles, engraved in relief during the Old Empire and frescoed in the New Kingdom; Usually frame scenes of hunting or ritual ceremonies.

In Pompeii and Herculaneum Roman frescoes of rooms decorated with landscapes from the 1st century BC have been preserved. C. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the landscape is painted as background or environment to contextualize a main scene.

Mount Sainte-Victoire, by Cezanne.

Contemporary Paintings

Contemporary painting has dissolved the existence of genres, but within the different avant-garde “isms” can be distinguished pictures in which the represented is a landscape, always with the style of the author.

Cézanne, the “father of modern painting”, devoted a whole series of paintings to the Sainte-Victoire mountain. Derain, Dufy, Vlaminck, and Marquet painted fauvist landscapes, and Braque, one of the founders of Cubism, repeatedly treated the landscape of L’Estaque.

In the Vienna of the early twentieth century, works of this genre produced both the modernist Gustav Klimt and the expressionist Egon Schiele.

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