Alexander von Humboldt's invention of the natural landscape

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Landscape took on a new meaning through the new science of plant geography of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1857). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, "landscape" was foremost a painterly genre. Slowly, painted landscapes came to bear on natural surroundings, but by 1800 it was still not common to designate sites as "landscapes." Humboldt looked at plant vegetation with a painterly gaze. Artists, according to him, could suggest in their work that an abstract unity lay hidden underneath observable phenomena. Humboldt projected painted landscapes on nature and found its ecological unity. By doing so, he ultimately stripped the concept of landscape from its primary visual meaning.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Amsterdam Department of Political Sciences Oudezijds Achterburgwal 237 Amsterdam The Netherlands, Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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