Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fountains, rivers and running brooks

I have quoted here before Robert Burton's description of the way a good prospect will ease melancholy, but for those without such a view, similar benefits are available from looking at landscape paintings. Leon Battista Alberti, in his Ten Books on Architecture (1452), provided this advice on interior decoration: 'our minds are cheered beyond measure by the sight of paintings depicting the delightful countryside, harbours, fishing, hunting, swimming, the games of shepherds - flowers and verdure...' (Book VII, Chapter 5).

This passage is quoted in E. H. Gombrich's seminal essay 'The Renaissance Theory of Art and the Rise of Landscape', along with a later one in which the psychological benefits of landscape are further stressed by Alberti: 'Those who suffer from fever are offered much relief by the sight of painted fountains, rivers and running brooks, a fact which anyone can put to the test; for if by chance he lies in bed one night unable to sleep, he need only turn his imagination on limpid waters and fountains which he had seen at one time or another, or perhaps some lake, and his dry feeling will disappear all at once and sleep will come upon him as the sweetest of slumbers...' Of course in emphasising the benefits of landscape without any specific subject matter, Alberti starts to point beyond mere illustration or decoration, towards the new independent genre of landscape painting.

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