Friday, April 6, 2018

17C Portraits - Families Head Outside as Man Becomes "the Interpreter of Nature"

The Renaissance, from the 14-17C, marked a turning point in portraiture. Renaissance artists began to paint secular scenes, breaking away from the dominant religious art of medieval painters. Partly out of interest in the natural world & partly out of nostalgia for classical Greece & Rome, portraits became valued as symbolic & allegorical objects & as depictions of earthly success & status. The period in Europe was the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages & modern history. The relationship between man & nature was evolving as Francis Bacon (1561-1626) promoted man as "the minister & interpreter of nature." Portraits began to depict the wealthy & the middle class in natural landscapes & in more formal garden settings, where man was obviously controlling the nature around him.   As time passed, the Renaissance garden became as much as symbol of the owner's wealth & culture as his house, his clothes, or his art collection.

1625 Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661)  Portrait of Sir Thomas Lucy and his Family at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire. England.  The 1st Sir Thomas Lucy is said to have planted the great double avenue of limes which still stretches away from the house to the south west. The rough split-oak palings that surround the parkland are of a type thought to have first been put up in Elizabethan times. In the 1670s a formal water garden was established, comprising geometric parterres & two ponds in which to breed carp. The garden was lovingly completed by Colonel George Lucy between 1695 & 1700. How long the garden was maintained in this immaculate state is unclear, but by the middle of the 18C it would have seemed terribly old-fashioned.
Around 1750 the young ‘Capability’ Brown was called in to advise on the garden at Packington, some 20 miles away, & a rough outline drawing of Charlecote’s house & garden appears on the back of one of his designs for Packington. However, it was not until 1757, that Mr Brown came to Charlecote to create a new cascade where the little river Dene met the Avon in the parkland. Three years after building the cascade "Bachelor" George Lucy made the following agreement with Brown:
Article 1. to widen the River Avon
Article 2. to sink the fosse (ha-ha) round the meadow, to make a sufficient fence against the deer
Article 3. to fill up all the ponds on the north front of the house, to alter the slopes & give the whole a natural, easy & corresponding level with the house on every side
Once the unfashionable water garden had been filled in, Brown created a raised lawn & planted it with the cedars of Lebanon.