Man and nature have been walking hand in hand since the beginning of time. It was probably the first theme to appear in art. Nature has been the source of inspiration for many, from the west to the east, i.e. from Egypt to Japan. The relationship of man with nature gradually changed as he evolved. Nature was first seen in its true form until man gradually learned that he can alter nature. As he developed, he learned that he can interpret nature in different ways. 

The different civilizations around the world have helped man learn and create or depict nature in his way. There are various descriptions of gardens in treaties made by historians or in the work of philosophers, poets and writers. Archaeologists have revealed interesting information about the garden decoration of the ancient world. Gardens obtained special popularity with the courts of rulers of the countries of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome.

We see gardens from prehistoric times; when our ancestors first began claiming territory. As they evolved they started developing more and more, from shelter to clothing to food and finally pleasure. The man was a hunter then, he slowly learned how to survive. The way nature influenced man during prehistoric times is seen in quite a few examples like The Carnac Stone and Cave Paintings in France, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, Easter Islands and Nazca Lines in Peru, White Horse in Uffington, etc. 

These are all brilliant examples of how intentionally or unintentionally man got drawn to this process of rearrangement of nature that would provide an increase in the aesthetic sense in man.

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The White Horse Hill_©nationaltrust.org.uk

Landscape design in Egypt was influenced by all of their beliefs as well as the natural context of Egypt. For example, they had high surrounding walls for protection, water bodies because of desert conditions, etc. They put a lot of thought into the planning system. Because of the climatic context, the major part of the garden was occupied by channels, ponds, pools. Egyptians saw utility over beauty. Hence they planted a lot of sweet-smelling plants in their gardens. Egyptians developed rectangular symmetric plans and used rhythm exclusively as a composition. Egyptian gardens were mainly developed from what they had. 

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Le Jardin de Nébamoun-a fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty_©The Trustees of the British Museum

Greek gardens were a combination of utilitarian, religious, and aesthetical features. The Greeks were fond of nature, and they made sure all their structures like the theatres, forums, squares looked like they were growing from nature. Greeks put a lot of thoughtfulness into their design. They let the structure they build merge in with the nature around it. Man sees things and tries to imitate them which results in the formation of new things. Greeks took the Persians and Egyptians as inspiration which resulted in their kind of design. The Greeks combined the built work with the natural landscape in a very harmonious way. 

An example of one such structure which describes best how Greeks were influenced by nature is the Miletus Theatre where one can see that the theatre is built along the slope of the hill and the nature around it is used as a backdrop.

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Miletus Theatre_©pix.fromcem.com

Romans are said to be rigid people. They considered strength, power and size to be very important. There were class systems in Rome that gradually led to the fall of it. They designed gardens that displayed their grandeur. They were highly influenced by the Greeks and the Egyptians. The Romans attempted to change nature to refine their gardens and give them an air of splendour. A lot of open spaces were designed which were for the public. 

The new gardens that were designed and built after the fall of the Roman Empire were no longer as grand as they used to be. They partially resembled the Roman gardens before the fall and also slightly resembled the gardens of the Ancient East. The traditions of Roman landscape design were further developed in the Italian gardens and then in the regular parks of Europe.

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Reconstruction of the Roman garden of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii_©Sailko

The number of crusades brought about a lot of new cultural movements which brought about the Renaissance. It vividly appeared in Italy. Landscape design became one of the most integral artistic works. Italy is a mountainous region because of which a lot of terraces were built in the gardens which were further connected to the house. Water was a very important feature in these gardens and was incorporated in the form of fountains, ponds, and waterfalls. These water bodies were used to accentuate the buildings. The gardens open up as you go upwards. 

The concept of topiary, i.e., plants in different shapes started here and this method is called Bosque. This gave a strictly planned look to the gardens. Parterres which are patterns in hedges are also one of the features that were widely used. The Italian landscape design is a complete artistic work where nature and skill harmoniously merge. 

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Villa Lante Jardins-Italian Garden_©lindmanphotography.com

The transition from Renaissance to Baroque cannot be determined, however many of the features from the Renaissance style were taken over in Baroque style. The Baroque style had found its unique expression in France. Obscene display of wealth was man’s main motive and hence all the structures built were phenomenal in scale to display power. There was no limit with regards to site or capabilities hence dominance prevailed over nature. There was more geometry and axis and no free-flowing forms. Gardens were built as a continuation to the house, hence they had equal grandeur.

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Versailles Garden_©Toucan Wings

The journey from prehistory to baroque is that of evolution and adoption. Man learned from nature, modified it, and beautified it. During prehistoric times, he was an amateur, his conditions led to some landscaping. However, as he evolved he learnt more about it and developed it further. The baroque style shows class and wealth. However, the ones in between show the evolution of man’s relationship with nature. The relationship of man with nature is varying and complex.

Reference

Landscapedesign-online.com. (2011). HISTORY OF LANDSCAPE DESIGN | Landscape Design and Site Planning. [online] Available at: http://www.landscapedesign-online.com/blog/history-landscape-design [Accessed 11 Apr. 2019].

Author

Mithila’s curiosity is always keeping her on a lookout for new things to learn. She has a penchant for reading and holds interest in landscape, interiors and history. Along with these interests she’s constantly working on a way to inculcate her love for textiles in her practice.

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