The Taste for Mountain Scenery

Though originally seen as ‘monstrous excrescences of nature’, Ronald Rees writes, mountains came into their own during the eighteenth century and began to inspire poetic awe and reverence.

In his book Man in the Landscape, the ecologist Paul Shepard remarks that the conversion of our natural surroundings into scenery was a milestone in the history of human perception which signified not only an enlargement of our aesthetic experience, but also a profound change in attitude toward the physical environment. While we believed ourselves to be an inseparable part of elemental nature, and our art to be a form of magic, an aesthetic appreciation of our surroundings was inconceivable. Scenery, Shepard asserts, came with a detached scientific vision and with museum art.

Although in Western civilization the aesthetic appreciation of landscape can be traced to the classical period, the current enthusiasm for it has shallower roots. At the present time, our greatest enthusiasm is reserved for wild and mountainous landscapes which now command such reverence that the uninformed observer could be forgiven for assuming that our response to them is instinctive. On the contrary, however, the present feeling dates only from the end of the eighteenth century.

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