Archetypes of Nature: Visualizing Geological Landscape during the British Enlightenment
Ink wash drawing by James Skene, c. 1809, done while on a geological tour in Scotland with George Bellas Greenough. Reproduced with permission of the Geological Society of London Archives.
This multidisciplinary research seeks to demonstrate how debates regarding aesthetic sensibility and pictorial depiction shaped the way that late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century natural philosophers in Britain envisioned the world, and how this world picture affected in a fundamental way the types of questions asked about Nature. Focusing primarily on the activities of early geologists and their antiquarian, dilettanti, and artistic contemporaries, Archetypes of Nature examines history of landscape as a central concept for considering intersections between art and science, and cultural modes of understanding how Nature is ordered, and how it behaves. During the period examined, the relationship between humanity and the natural world, as debated in philosophical and artistic circles, paralleled arguments developed in studies of the Earth. Mineralogists and geologists appropriated forms of inquiry such as art and architectural theory to help them wrestle with definitions of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ that informed their work. Combining art history and history of science, this study seeks to re-evaluate the importance of cultural and historical expression as found in the new science geology.