Culture of illusion : landscape gardens, fabricated ruins, and the diorama, c. 1750 - 1850




Alt, Kasie Elaine

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This project examines questions of fabrication and authenticity in landscape garden design and the Diorama, bridging England and continental Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, proposing that certain sites rely on illusion and the interpretative value of fabrication. As a space characterized as ‘natural’, the English Landscape Garden was also highly designed; a paradox that manifests in the form of the fabricated ruin. Through four case studies, this project examines a variety of uses and values of illusion in the formation of the landscape and its visual representation. The first half of the project focuses on the design and experience of illusion in the eighteenth-century landscape garden. In England, Wimpole and Wrest Park include fabrications as participatory elements that instill the landscape with an imagined history. Illusion and theatricality are essential elements of the English landscape style as it was translated to the continent. At Schwetzingen, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century landscape attached to Elector’s palace relies on illusion to frame the experience of the ‘natural’ in the ‘English’ style part of the landscape. Representation is the focus of the second half of the project. Theatrical effects and illusion were arguably implicit in the landscape experience, forming the basis for the ‘theatrical’ images in Humphry Repton’s Red Books. The reception of those images further connected the landscape garden with forms of theater in the wider visual culture. By the early nineteenth century, landscape scenes featuring ruins became a common feature of the theater without actors called the Diorama. The illusion of this spectacle derived from experiential expectations established in the landscape garden, which then became a framework for viewing Daguerre’s garden designs at Bry-sur-Marne in the mid-nineteenth century. In these studies, fabricated structures in the garden generate and participate in a culture of fiction and theatrical illusion that is an integral part of the landscape experience and its representation. As fictional and experiential spaces, landscapes with fabricated ruins and their representations create a space where the roles of historical authenticity, illusion, and imagination are negotiated, throwing into question the very nature of fabrication and our relation to history.



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