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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Natural World Compare: Does Art Imitate Nature or Vice Versa?

View of the gardens at Stourhead Estate

View of the gardens at Stourhead Estate
Artist / Origin: Henry Hoare II (1705–1785) and Henry Flitcroft (1687–1768) (designers)
Region: Europe
Date: 1741–1765
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Garden
Medium: Other
Dimensions: 2,650 acres (estate grounds)
Location: Stourton, Wiltshire, England
Credit: © ART on FILE/CORBIS

Frescoed Wall from the House of Livia

Frescoed Wall from the House of Livia
Artist / Origin: Roman artist
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1st century BCE
Period: 500 BCE – 1 CE
Material: Mural
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: L: 19 ft. (5.90 m.)
Location: Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme), Rome, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of SCALA/Art Resource, NY/Photo by Liciano Romano

Does art imitate nature or vice versa?

Where do we draw the line between art and nature? Does one shape the way we see the other or do they engage in a mutual dialogue? The examples of the picturesque garden at Stourhead and the garden mural at the villa of Livia demonstrate the degree of artifice that often goes into making nature look “natural.”

Questions to Consider

  • Both the garden at Stourhead and the garden fresco at the villa of Livia embrace the disorderliness of nature and stress the variety to be found in the natural world. What effects does this produce in the outdoor setting? In the indoor setting? Why do you think these particular elements might have appealed to their respective audiences?
  • One of these works attempts to bring an artistic aesthetic to an outdoor landscape, the other to bring a garden view to an interior space. Why? What is the relationship between art (or artifice) and nature in each case? How would you describe the relationship between art and nature in your own culture and era?
  • How does each of these works endow nature with intellectual as well as aesthetic value? Do you think that by attaching allegorical or symbolic associations to nature, we increase or decrease our aesthetic appreciation of it?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2