Landscape and painting share their history inevitably. With its start in the fifteenth century, the representation of landscape emerges along with the invention of the perspective pictorial space - the “scenic cube”, as Pierre Francastel refers, or the Raumkasten, in the words of Erwin Panowsky . Thus, the representation of landscape and its history produce a replacement of the question of representation by the very creation of an artistic typology - with rules, hierarchies, specific proceedings and structure -, besides the development of a complete canon of good proceedings in the creation of the pictorial representation of landscape.
Throughout the last 500 years, landscape was the theme of pictorial creation in many of its moments of largest development - from the Flemish landscape in the fifteenth century, to the landscape of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, to the formulations of landscape in English painting in the eighteenth century, to French and German painting in the nineteenth century – besides the importance of painting and engraving in China and Japan.
However, it would be in the twentieth century – particularly in the second half – that landscape would know a huge development, with the introduction of photography and later of film and video, devices which allow a relation with the field of the visible which restructured and redefined the rules and proceedings of the visual, reuniting landscape and its representation. We could even state that these new devices contributed to the understanding of landscape as a problem of representation of the world, highlighting the perceptive, aesthetic and political questions raised by landscape.
In fact, when we speak of landscape, we have always a duplicity which does not help us in understanding its mechanisms as cultural construction. If, in portrait – another of the fundamental typologies of history of art - we clearly distinguish the process of representation of the object of representation (the portrait of the portrayed), in the case of landscape that distinction is not clearly made – the term is used in both senses. However, this terminological confusion allows us to understand that the definition of a certain field of the visible as “landscape” corresponds to its selection as an area of the visual field bearing a composition which deserves its landscape representation. This means that landscape is not a natural given (and the confusion between landscape and nature is very common) but the result of a cultural construction which selects a certain area of the visual field as able of being the object of a frame, of a snip, of a representation and, therefore, of a series of protocols and symbolic constructions.
In this respect, Malcolm Andrews calls attention to the fact that the theme of landscape is always its surroundings, its parergon: in landscape, the choice of a certain field of the visible is the very theme and, in that sense, the border between ergon and parergon becomes porous (as the British historian states, according to Jacques Derrida) .
The second fundamental question in the representation of landscape lies in the hierarchy of the visual field. The representation of landscape is a presentation of a visual field by means of certain codes of hierarchy of the visible – between what is close and what is far, between what is above and what is below, between what has individuality and what is combined in the problem of form. For that reason, landscape was the main field of pictorial experimentation when the relationship between painting and language knew greater attention from artists: for the German Romantics, to whom landscape was the representation of the ciphered writing of nature, landscape was the result of a pictorial-linguistic construction, far from the visual and its mechanisms, but close to the nature inscribed in it; for the Impressionists, namely for Cézanne, landscape is the device for an understanding of the phenomenological proceedings of painting and vision, allowing its reconstitution according to hierarchies which did not coincide with the structure of identification of the visual field’s elements by language; for Mondrian - who would come to strip landscape of its representational duties to, through it, reach abstraction - landscape is the device for an economic structuring of the visual field, until the moment when its elements are converted into structural skeletons which, evidently, no longer correspond to their proper names (a tree is no longer a tree and is now a structure, or a “tree”).
However, it would be in the second half of the twentieth century that art on landscape would come to know two particularly important developments. The first is the introduction of the idea of cultural landscape – a term which derives from the establishment, during the American post-war period, of a series of discourses on landscape, around the magazine Landscape, first published in 1951 by John Brinckerhoff Jackson. This publication would come to introduce an idea of landscape crossing sociology, geography and anthropology, and influencing the artistic practices which mapped America and reshaped its landscape, with a particular emphasis on the work of Robert Frank and of the on the road aesthetic which knew in literature the expression of Jack Kerouac. From these pioneer works in the 50s, photography established itself as a privileged field for the treatment of landscape in an urban context, stripped of the principles of aesthetic and pictorial construction, to define a specificity from its proximity to the real. This would also be the path of artists like Dan Graham or Ed Ruscha, as well as, in Europe, of Bernt and Illa Becher who, from the Düsseldorf Academy, would bring a return to the documental.
The second huge innovation was centred on the exiting from the universe of representation and on the establishment of a “landscape mode” in sculpture, to use a term of Robert Morris .
This launch of a landscape modality of sculpture coincides with the enlargement of the scale of sculpture intervention on landscape which, in its turn, concurs with an extension of the very concept of sculpture as expanded, artistic field, leaving its usual determinants – the plinth and the space of the museum or the urban square – to install itself in nature . Thus, the scale of landscape made art more permeable. Recently (in the last 30 years), this idea of landscape in its interface with sculpture has passed to the urban realm, taking the city and its outskirts as viable places for the installation of works, therefore shaking the very idea of landscape. In this respect, it is interesting to refer the work of Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark and Dan Graham who reshaped the idea of urban landscape