We must remember that the concept of landscape first emerged in the 16th century, through the painterly representation of nature. A landscape is a segment of nature reshaped by perception. Thus, “landscape” does not exist in nature—it exists only in the depicting or experiencing of nature. In previous centuries, the invoking of nature as the scene of the story of Salvation had become a pictorial concept: Mary in little cloister gardens, the Holy Family on the flight through the wilderness, or the Saviour’s birthplace among the shepherds’ pastures. Not until Altdorfer and Dürer can one identify the first sites of secular life and mundane history in a natural setting within Deutschland.
In the 17th century, the scenes of sacred and secular events are combined in a humanist spirit to create the Arcadian landscape, which is theologically free of suspicion because of its classical origins. This was primarily initiated by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin in France.
It is to be expected, and quite logical, that the next development, in the 18th century, is the rendering of landscape painting into real shaped nature: the “English garden”. In the park, the painting of the Arcadian landscape is reified in real nature, and becomes a place that one can walk through. The former purely sensory perception of a viewer is transformed into physical activity. Seeing becomes walking: the viewer converges toward the object of his perception. This development reaches its zenith with the veduta typus that pictorially represents people wandering within open spaces toward destinations that offer a richness of experience, observed by other people like themselves and communicating with the viewer of the painting by looking out of the picture.
The emergence of the veduta coincided with the emergence of the theatre as an educational institution, in which the spectator partakes in reflections, in the truest sense of the word, of how others see something and react to it. The forerunner of this was teichoscopy, in which the spectator hears a description from another person, but does not actually see what is described.
The philosophical synthesis of these processes was summed up in the Enlightenment dictum esse est percipii: (to be is to be perceived) in other words, one exists socially only in the moments when one is perceived by others.
At the outset of the 18th century, such reflexive interactions were seen as fundamental to the generation of the public sphere. The first English newspapers of the 1710s were entitled “Spectator” and “Observer”: two terms later incorporated into the philosophy of journalism to describe the strict separation between reporting events and providing commentary. In today’s language, they correspond to the distinction between the first-order and second-order observer.
Forms that re-transferred landscape painting into the cultivation of nature were faced with a certain condition: the slow growth of large plants and trees meant that the artist-cum-gardener could hardly hope to see his work of art completed. This gave greater importance to the more small-scale creations: the “flower theatres” and “hedge theatres” and the larger beds—paintings in a garden of paintings—as well as theatre-type “pre-representations” of the future result. Fundamental incompleteness stimulated a fantasy of future completeness, just as the ruins constructed from new materials included in all English gardens stimulated fantasies of the history of classical cultures and the Christian Middle Ages. As reality approached ever closer to the ideal, these created ideal landscapes overwhelmingly gave all participants in these social development experiments the feeling of coming into being. In other words, no persons or artefacts would be judged in terms of what they were, but in terms of their potential for development. This was a manifestation of the concept of progress: becoming through a progression of prefiguring, thinking, and working. To become enlightened meant to increasingly step beyond social existence, and, through self-evaluation, to observe oneself in order to assure oneself of one’s own continued personality development. This observational process was assisted by correspondence, diaries, collections of administrative documents, exhibitions of outdated working tools, and other evidence of a successful reshaping of nature achieved through imaginative power and implemented through work. Raising yields in plant cultivation and animal husbandry were the parameters for progress in mastering nature. Additionally, the self-control of individuals would be enhanced by an ability to tolerate the discrepancy between the current state of development and visions of the potentially achievable—to distinguish accurately between daydreams and philosophical/scientific speculations of the kind developed by Hegel and Lamarck, whose primary interest in nature was in the logics of evolution—of becoming—as deciphered from the relationship of possibility and reality, of potentiality and actuality.
In summary, the endeavour was to consider these reified images, visions and “Utopias” as forms of experimental evolution. Years before the works of Ledoux and Boullée, Proudhon and Comte, Franz von Anhalt-Dessau created a laboratory of this type in Wörlitz, ambitiously competing with English, French, and Polish experiments, and also those in Switzerland. The latter had a special significance thanks to the most influential ideologue of the “progress” movement: Rousseau, who understood his “back to nature” dictum as progress, nature being the great teacher of man’s cognition and his endeavour through labour, and progress being defined as man’s ability to increasingly follow the evolutionary logics of nature.
These maxims were responded to in a very particular way by English aristocrats such as Lord Burlington, who equated Greco-Roman antiquity with the early nature of human civilisation, and devoted themselves to a contemporary recapturing of this classical era through neoclassicism. Hogarth’s satire on making nature synonymous with bygone historical eras was actually translated into a behavioural codex for cultivating character and tastes through intellectual cultivation by the Göttingen philosopher Lichtenberg (1778 ff.); it was distributed throughout Germany in the form of engravings—the mass media of the time— by Chodowiecki. In these, we find educational instruction; they provided contemporaries with guidance on how to optimise themselves by shaking off all the conventions of the wealthy and nouveau riche. The citizen as gentleman was supposed to get rid of the dressage learned in a “dancing school” in order to become the goodhearted natural lad, and, through intellectual qualifications, attain to the genius of naturalness as a form of self-determination and as an expression of freedom.
Painter and eater
To understand a stroll as a journey through “free” nature, as fulfilling a desire to return to nature, one had first to emphasize the difference between bookish knowledge and practical caritas, between putting down lines on paper and the ploughing of furrows, between painting the fruit and consuming it. The era was given the name “Enlightenment”, signifying the spreading of the light of insight through the sparking of flashes of genius. Clarity of thought and perception was understood entirely pragmatically: it signified the extending of visibility through emergence from the indoor space—dimly lit even during the daytime—and the placing of the objects of insight in an appropriate light.
In the 18th century, it was no longer sufficient to take on unfamiliar worlds and cultures in the form of novel-type descriptions for one’s own edification. One had to travel oneself, embark on the Grand Tour, that cultural tourism journey and ramble through the historical centres of Europe, and incorporate them into one’s own experiences and worldview in order to make them productive as a basis for one’s own actions. For middle-class artists of all fields, this was “a stroll to Syracuse”: a contemporary version of the educational journey from master to master, from city to city once required of any journeyman.
Country air brings freedom
The development initiated in colonies of progressive experimentation like Wörlitz reached its height almost one hundred years later: fresh air thinking and fresh air painting, the rural commune reform movement, and alternative therapists offering fresh air treatments. In the Middle Ages, there was a saying that the air of the city made one free, but now it is country air that sets thoughts free and releases life energy through fresh-air invigoration, obtained by exposing oneself to all weathers, to the power of the sun and to water. Philosophy takes the form of practical work, and beauty is perceived in the successful growth and thriving of plants and animals.
Wörlitz was therefore a first-rate laboratory in exploring progressive concepts on the model of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft or “Fruitbearing Society”. This was developed by courtiers from the tiny royal court of Köthen following the depredations of the Thirty Years War, in a coming together of aristocracy and urban bourgeoisie: it was in their own interests to push the literacy and education of the country folk, attendants and artisans, in order to recover at least a part of the vitality and joie de vivre lost through war. Now that the conclusion I reached twenty-five years ago—that the founder of the Wörlitz social experiment must have been a member of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft of Anhalt-Köthen—has been confirmed, we can see that the progressive zeal of the educationalists derives from their mission to finally establish a kingdom of peace for humanity. The understanding of a kingdom that survives today in the expression “my little private kingdom”, and that was expressed en masse in the allotment gardening movement for citizens of modest means, marks out an area of autonomy, tending toward autarchy. It determines the horizon of free agency for self-determination in individuals and groups, upon which their claim to freedom is founded. Only those, who are ready and able to take on responsibility for their small kingdom, their garden place, their colony founded in their own or a foreign country, are capable of freedom. In the 18th century, this readiness and will for responsibility was primarily attached to nobles, the sufficiently successful citizenry came second and, in third place, the petty-bourgeois, who were to be instructed in how to exercise freedom. (One should remember that the term “bourgeois” refers to those who lived in the protection of a “burg”, and, later, in agreement with the lords of the burgs, expanded their community to create the city.)
Freedom manifested itself in the capacity to freely form social communities, focusing upon their responsibility to develop the future.
The invention of antiquity
It is still a widespread perception that “Renaissance” meant a “rebirth” of antiquity; this is in urgent need of correction with regard to the philosophers of the Enlightenment. The only revival of antiquity took place in Rome in the 1340s, when the Colonna senator family offered the historical experimenter Cola di Rienzi the opportunity to reintroduce the major rules and institutions of the Roman Republic as it existed prior to the murders of Cicero and Caesar. This experiment failed, not least because of the consequences of the Great Plague, but in actual fact due to the internal contradictions of this plan. Incidentally, this provided Engels with a reminder that the New cannot be a repetition of the beginning. The New is not just a new start.
It was plain to the Alberti generation, and later to humanists, that one cannot reverse or re-initiate the consecutio temporum, the sequence of history. Instead, one should allow memory to become productive—and internalised memories clearly differ from memorised facts. Facts must be reproduced; memories must always be recreated. The memory of the early times and heyday of European civilisation in antiquity—primarily disseminated by Winckelmann in the mid-18th century—therefore by far exceeds the dissemination of the purely factual.
The memory-suffused creation of antiquity by classicism idealistically outdoes history and fact in the assertion of what antiquity had the potential to be, but never was. The ancient statues and pieces of architecture presented by Winckelmann, for instance, are pale marble, even though they were originally all painted in multiple, bright colours, because the topographical colouration was not predicated on painterly values, but instead were intended to make the designs clearer in blazing sunlight. This topographical colouration is still used today in the design of atlases or in the publication of images of distant heavenly bodies as “false colour renderings”. Thanks to the painstaking reconstructions by Vinzenz Brinkmann and his team, we now have a very specific knowledge of what classical statues and architecture actually looked like—to use an analogy from the modern day, they looked like artefacts in Disneyland, with a Donald Duck-type costume.
Antiquity, which exerts an enduring fascination on us as modern people, so exemplary in the unparalleled perfection of its designs, is a memory created by Winckelmann of an ideal that was not developed in antiquity itself, but in the European Age of Enlightenment. It is in this sense that the later era takes the place of the earlier—the end is the beginning, and one can only sensibly begin at the end, because only then does one know where the endeavour is tending. To this extent, it is classicism that proves the significance of antiquity. And classicism, as the ideal of an antiquity that never existed, determines the future of modernity.
Even the 20th century still saw an unparalleled display of this definition of classicism as a program of modernism—for instance, in the buildings of the Paris World Exhibition of 1937. Unparalleled, because this program of “classicism as modernity” was reflected in equal measure of the exhibition entries of the People’s Republic of France, of the constitutional monarchy of Britain, of Fascist Italy, of the democratic USA, of National Socialist Germany, and of the USSR. The Wörlitzer Schloss manifests this modernism programme most plainly, precisely because it was incorporated into the pedagogical province at a relatively late stage.
In what sense can the classical fiction of antiquity be juxtaposed with political, economic, social, and military realities without becoming a laughable retreat from the contemporary era, or a phantasm? There is a perfectly decisive answer to this question. When the French queen Marie Antoinette, at her farm within the park of Versailles, used classical myth as a pretext for living in an alternative world, in order to learn to appreciate the eroticism of Pan through the teats of goats, and unspoiled natural sexuality through well-built farm labourers (just as it was later celebrated by de Sade in orgiastic instruction of his readers and himself), metaphor construction was used as a transmission belt between actuality and possibility, between reality and the ideal.
Metaphor had already reached a high stage of development in the classics of Roman literature dating from the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Metaphors are primarily used to link the sensory experiencing of natural phenomena with a theoretical conceptual development, using them to serve as life plans or development models.
The pounding of the waves of the sea therefore symbolises identical repetition, as a model for eternity. The blowing sand is a metaphor for the trickling away of a human life. Tracks on the ground symbolise historicality (and the archaeological discovery of history), whilst flowers symbolise the blossoming of a merely temporary glory.
The soulful eyes of ruminants exemplify peace of mind, a stability of the soul owed to order (in the ancient world, this was symbolised by “cow-eyed Hera”; in the clinics of Epidauros, looking into the eyes of a cow was the recommended prelude to sleep therapy).
Solitary trees are interpreted as the resistance of a strong personality against the adverse circumstances of storms, hail, and floods. Forests, on the other hand, are seen as a protective community, the collective of the weak. In the teachings of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the coexistence of animals of the same species was considered a metaphor for peace within a society (at the time, conflicts between members of the same species, such as wars among monkeys or lions killing their rivals’ offspring, were still unknown). The reproduction of hares and rabbits—several times a year, coupling freely with several partners—served to justify lax morality as progressive and natural.
The ensemble of nature to be metaphorised within the field of human activity simultaneously characterises the human being’s education as a reader and overwriter of individual natural phenomena with religious, philosophical, and poetic meanings. Some details even require the common members of the Garden Kingdom of Wörlitz’s educational commune to have foreign-language skills. Only French speakers could recognise the poplars surrounding the epitaph of Rousseau on the island as an embodiment of the people, because the French term les peupliers associates readily with le peuple.
Thinking is working is thinking
Generally, education through work is described as cogitate et laborate, a secular variant of the Benedictine ora et labora. We know that a connection between physical and mental activity existed during the golden age of Roman virtus, one which, in turn, reached back to the Peripatetic School of Aristotle (“peripatetic” implying thought during movement). One needed cogitare—reflective thought (or rather Promethean forethought) to optimise the impact of land husbandry, in harmony with the seasons and soil composition. Laborare, to work, was to act in accordance with insight, and to convert it into products. However, thoughts, that is, concepts based on recognising natural laws, can also be evaluated retroactively, based on the results of the work. This interplay of recognition and action, of planning and execution within a secular society corresponds to the concept of creation in a sacred concept. Once human beings created in God’s image imprint thought forms onto nature as development goals—growth and cultivation as reshaped nature directed by the force of thought—not only God but nature, his creation, becomes in its turn creative. Today, this corresponds to the concept of information: that is, to imprint a form upon the natural material or to assign oneself to a social formation, just as the lieutenant, by ordering ranked soldiers into formations, creates information for the battlefield commander. Thus, the informed society is a society made to conform to social systems of order, with these systems of order publicly accessible to everyone.
Religious devotion could be translated directly into the more worldly devotion of the enlightened human being. It is in this sense that the injunction to “subdue the earth”, after all, was an injunction to become nature’s master through an understanding of nature, and to resist natural disasters such as floods and diseases by acquiring information. In the garden kingdoms, those laboratories for the development of Paradise as the ultimate goal to be attained for the coexistence of all creatures, it was a question of conquering the creative force, of appropriating it to oneself. To learn, to become educated, to be free, therefore meant to become creative in every act of work. In the 18th century, no-one would consider creativity to be restricted to artistic and scientific works: instead, both were the precondition for human beings to become creative in developing their life potential through the handiwork of their lives, their vita activa. This is demonstrated by Diderot’s great encyclopaedia, which is a textual and illustrated lexicon of all knowledge relating to the development of life competency. Thus, the pathos of the garden kingdom designer was permitted to, or even expected of, the common workers as well as the leading figures: after all, their lives were characterised by working activity, and this was precisely what defined their status.
In his novel concerning the learning and wandering years of Wilhelm Meister (Wilhelm Meisters Lehr- and Wanderjahre), Goethe sketched the sum total of the great social and future experiments à la the Wörlitz Garden Kingdom. In the opinion of Friedrich Schlegel, it was this, together with Fichte’s Doctrine of Science and the Napoleonic Civil Code, that showed the nature of human progress in the 18th century.