Giorgione, The Three Philosophers, c1500
I see I referred to one of Cosgrove’s essays in an earlier post in the context of mapping and landscape art. The full title of the essay I quoted is ‘The geometry of landscape: practical and speculative arts in sixteenth-century Venetian land territories.’ His starting point is classic human geography: the fortification, irrigation, and agricultural development of Venice’s terraferma. He then describes the importance of practical geometry in surveying and mapping this territory. It is possible to link this with the Venetian vision of landscape, in the art of Bellini, Giorgione and Titian, in the architecture of Palladio, and in the pastoral poetry of Bembo and Tasso. However, to provide a fuller connection, Cosgrove goes further and describes the concurrent interest in ‘speculative geometry’, which along with number theory underlay the esoteric culture, mystic symbolism and cosmology popular with Venetian humanists. It was therefore the combination of ‘practical chorography and a speculative philosophy’ which influenced the iconography of landscape in Venice and its territories. Cosgrove ends the essay by describing Giorgione’s The Three Philosophers, which seems to portray the different seasons in one landscape, along with the setting sun, magi and a quadrant, ‘the archetypal geometrical instrument.’ It combines the obscure intellectual poetry of Venetian culture with ‘the practical world of survey and mapping then spreading a new rational order across the fields of the terraferma.’ Denis Cosgrove’s work similarly bridged ideas of landscape as art and landscape as terrain, an approach that has created such a fruitful field of enquiry in cultural geography.