The Beautiful, the Sublime and the Picturesque

On Monday, our first day at Wye House, we were given a tour of the property. I particularly enjoyed Beth’s discussion of the picturesque, the sublime and the beautiful.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a movement to reconnect with nature.  For a long time people had been scared of nature and believed that it should be viewed from afar.  Ideas about nature gradually began to change and people slowly introduced plants into their landscapes.  However, most people were still wary of the power of nature, so they devised a system to better control the pieces of nature they planted in their property.

The beautiful in the side garden. Source: M. Isobel Taylorch

The beautiful in the side garden. Source: M. Isobel Taylorch

Landowners divided their wildlife into two categories so as to maintain dominance over the natural world around them.  On one hand there was the beautiful, the carefully maintained plants, and on the other was the sublime, the property’s collection of wild and untamed vegetation.  According to Uvedale Price, a landscape architect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the beautiful is light, playful, intricate and varied while the sublime elicits awe and terror caused by the appearance of infinity brought on by rows and rows of a single type of plant.  At Wye House, the rows and rows of overgrown grass at the front of the property represents the sublime, whereas the small garden to the side of the main house, the mowed lawn directly in front of the main house, and the ordered and controlled bushes and trees on the side of the front lawn demonstrates the beautiful (see pictures).

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