This advanced seminar begins with the assumption that the crucial experience of any garden or designed landscape is as a topos, where the physical object is not only subordinate to, and primarily important as an invitation to, moral reflection, but it may also constitute the embodiment of political ideology and/or economic goal. All too often, however, Western garden historiography has presented gardens and landscapes as simply objects of aesthetic appreciation, reflecting the clever craft of a designer, the preferences of a luxury-obsessed elite, or both.
The course will instead offer a revisionist history of European and early American landscapes that will begin by examining the religious, political, and economic circumstances that shaped the early modern gardens of the Venetian republic, with particular attention to Palladio’s villas, contrasting them with elite villa gardens of central Italy, often commissioned by members of the church; it will then probe into the English reception of Palladian classicism and its influence on garden making for the purposes of covert political propaganda; lastly, the course will address the legacy of English Palladianism in North America and the rhetorical use of the classical ideal of rural retirement to justify environmental exploitation and slavery.
The primary sources will be drawn from a variety of disciplines, including art history, literature, philosophy, geography, architectural and garden history. The objective will be to understand how each of them contributes to a cultural and social history of the built environment.