If a river runs through it, somewhere there is bound to be a bridge. Little in the landscape remains untouched by human hands, and every touch, from the simplest ditch to the most intricate monument, reveals a political decision or design. This is how Martin Warnke, one of Germany's leading art historians, looks at landscape in this book, which leads to a new way of seeing nature as we have appropriated, represented, and transformed it over time. Covering nearly a thousand years and most of western Europe, The Political Landscape provides a compelling summary history of modern humanity's ill-fated attempt to master nature.
Warnke finds evidence of the politicized landscape everywhere, on nature's own ground and in art, artifacts, and architecture, in features defined by the demands of conquest and defense, property rights and picturesque improvement, trade, tradition, communication, and commemoration. Whether considering the role of landscape in battle depictions, or investigating monumental figures from the Colossus of Rhodes to Mount Rushmore, or asking why gold backgrounds in paintings gave way to mountains topped with castles, Warnke reconfigures our idea of landscape, its significance, and its representations. The book sharpens our perceptions of nature in art and as art--a nature charged with symbol and meaning as a result of interventions by turns enlightened, insensitive, or, as now, dangerously corrosive.