Of Places and Landscapes

                                                                             Jorge D. Goldfarb


  This Essay was originally published on  Place Network , September 2011


       That landscape and place are closely interconnected notions seems obvious to most, an almost self-evident relation. Yet, in spite of this obviousness, answers to the central question of the way in (or by) which the character of a landscape is determined by the places that constitute it have proved somewhat elusive.

       In this Essay I intend to explore some promising answers to that question. That I have titled it 'Places and Landscape' and not 'Place and Landscape' stems from examining how those places that happen to be embedded in a portion of our life-world that we choose to call a landscape determine its character, thus Places and Landscape and not Place and Landscape.

        In my opinion the most promising serious attempt to formulate concrete answers has been one proposed by C. Norberg-Schulz who, about 20 years ago, proposed a typology of 'natural' landscapes based largely on the idea that different types of landscapes are the result of the different ways in which the multiplicity of places that compose it are perceived.  

        In his book Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture [1] he proposed a system of categorization for what he terms 'natural' landscapes[2] His proposal represents a highly ambitious attempt to introduce order into an otherwise chaotic collection of landscape exemplars, which in the literature have been variously grouped as kinds, types, classes, etc., using ad-hoc criteria. I call it ambitious because it attempts to encase or encompass a near infinitude of 'natural' landscapes into just four categories. I have proposed elsewhere [3] to reduce the number from four to three and to change his categories from what he calls 'types' to 'genres". For each category Norberg-Schulz listed a number of characteristics, so that, if all of the characteristics are shown in a given exemplar of a 'natural' landscape it could be considered an archetype or prime example of that class. The categories were designated by Norberg-Schulz as the 'classic', 'romantic' and the 'cosmic' landscape [4]. I have reproduced elsewhere his original texts for each category and I refer the reader to those pages for a complete account of each.[3a] 

       Out of the various characteristics for each category, the ones that N-S stresses more refer to the constituent places [5], thus:

   The ‘romantic landscape’ is characterized by an indefinite multitude of different places.

  The 'classical' landscape "may be described as a meaningful order of distinct, individual places".

  The 'cosmic' landscape "does not contain individual places, but forms a continuous neutral ground". 

(quotes from [1]; italics in the original)

       What we have then is a categorization system purporting that all landscapes may be ascribed to one (or more) of these three basic categories [6] largely on the basis of how the constituent places compose a given landscape [7].  

       Given the paramount role that places plays in the characterization of the three categories, a more in-depth exploration of the notions of place that are relevant to landscapes seems indicated. The meanings of those sentences are obviously dependent on the meanings of places in their contexts. Jeff Malpas book Place and Experience [8] contains such an in-depth exploration and I thought worthwhile to look for a better understanding of Norberg-Schulz landscape categories through the lens of the relevant notions of Place expounded in Malpas book.

        I cannot but agree with Malpas when he writes: "only through an exploration of the notion of place will the significance of place itself come to light"; to which I would only add: 'and through an exploration of the notion of place will the significance of landscape also come to light'.

          As to the why of Norberg-Schulz Genius Loci interpreted through Malpas Place and Experience: - Heidegger's thinking underlies both books. The role that Heidegger plays in this and other related Malpas works is well known; for Norberg-Schulz  Genius Loci represents in many ways a turning point of his ideas on place; as he writes in the Introduction : "The philosophy of Heidegger has been the catalyst which has made the present book possible and determined its approach" [9]. I am confident that Norberg-Schulz (of blessed memory) would have been quite at ease with being interpreted through Malpas views on place and space.  

         I have chosen some selected landscape paintings from Pieter Brueghel the Elder to examine some of the ideas of place and of space. In my humble opinion[10] many Brueghel's paintings have as a motif his grasp of place and space and his awareness of the tension between them, a tension he attempted to represent through the use of ingenious pictorial tricks in his, pre-perspective, times [10a]. 



  Of the 'Classical" Landscape and The Fall of Icarus

       What does it mean to say that landscapes in which we recognize --"a meaningful order of distinct, individual places"-- are typical examples of the category of "classical' landscapes? Looking for possible (and plausible) answers we'd have to explore the various meanings of 'place' and, within the context of relevant meanings, to examine what of place makes it appears in our eyes as 'distinct, individual' (as contrasted with diffuse or poorly defined). As for the former:

 In broad terms one  could treat the noun form of 'place' as having five main senses:



  1. a definite but open space, particularly, a bounded, open space within a city or a town.
  2. A more generalized sense of space, extension, dimensionality or 'room'.
  3. Location or position within some order (whether it be a spatial or some other kind of ordering, hierarchical or not).
  4. A particular locale or environment that has a character of its own; and
  5. An abode or that within which something exists or within which something dwells. {21}

 Clearly the items on this list do not (Note: Since I'll be profusely quoting Malpas Place and Experience, to keep repeating 'Malpas said in his book', or 'Malpas writes in his book' or 'in Malpas views', etc. may make the text a bit boring. To avoid that I'll just use a brown color for quotes from Place and Experience and point out the page number for the quote as a number between { } brackets, whilst numbers within [  ] are reserved for notes and refs.) 

    Clearly the terms in the above list do not capture all the shades of meanings that place can carry but they may be taken as a satisfactory outline of the main senses. With this in mind let's start with The Fall of Icarus:



                                                                          Brueghel, The Fall of Icarus, ca. 1560

                                                                          Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Bruxelles

      Of The Fall of Icarus it may be said, in our context, that the painting is outstanding as an image by which those various shades of meaning that place can carry, may be illustrated.  As a landscape painting it is rather contrived, certainly not one of Brueghel's best landscapes [10b] but as a representation of places it is a superb piece (If I ever were called to give a lecture on Place, I'd choose this painting to illustrate the various points)

   The foreground is dominated by a rocky promontory where three characters are located: a farmer tilling the soil, a shepherd, and an angler. What Brueghel may be thought to have wanted to stress in this portion of the painting is the notion of an intimate connection between person and place, and so also between self and environing world [13]. Each of these three characters configures three distinct places, places which appear clearly differentiated from each other mostly because of the delineation of levels in the terraced ground.


    Which of the five senses of place given in the list above apply for those three places? I'd say first and foremost sense v), (with dwelling taken as an existential foothold) and, of course, i) and iv); if the order is taken as spatial rather than hierarchical point iii) also holds; perhaps ii) as the lesser one since their spaces appear to be somewhat constricted. But, no doubt, grasping those places as illustrations of a concept, they are all quite admirable illustrations of:

     The concept of place is essentially the concept of a bounded but open region within which a set of interconnected elements can be located  [16]

(a sentence which I have underlined because it will be used repeatedly in the following; a sort of backbone of the arguments about boundaries, openness and interconnection of elements)

   There are a fair number of other places that could be distinguished [11]: the ships are places in which their sailors dwell, the ruins of the castle (left of center)  battled by the sea waves, the buildings of the town (in the upper left) with each of them a place, the island near the line of the horizon, the mountains that face it, and also the tip of land covered by trees on the right, close to the line where the picture abruptly ceases to be a picture and becomes frame. But there are far more: the whole bay must surely be a place for the sailors in the ships, and the whole town a place for its dwellers and even the cloudy sky on the right a place, but not the same place as the bright golden sky of the center-top. In short, as many places as our fancy leads us to distinguish. [12]

       What differentiates the places in the last paragraph from those in the promontory has to do with closeness to the viewer of the image. It is a painting ploy often used by Brueghel in his landscapes (see the Rabbit Hunter below) to accentuate the extension of space by emphasizing the contrast between places close to the viewer with distant ones. But also distant places are somehow de-humanized, the human presence left to our imagination as contrasted with the ones nearest to us; in these we feel the presence of creatures that can engage with a world (and, more particularly, with the objects and events within it) that can think about that world and that can find itself in the world. [16]

Of the Boundaries of Places.

    Of the boundaries of places it may be said, among other things, that they are crucial for the understanding of theoretical treatments of places; as crucial as, in Science, the system's boundaries are for the understanding of System Theory. Even when the boundaries are imagined, as is often the case when working with systems, their location determines their way of functioning. [13]  

          The relation between 'within and without' as well as the associated notion of 'boundary' to which Strauss gives special attention – both of which can be seen as also implicated with a general notion of 'containment' – is of special importance in relation to the investigation into place. [17]

     For Strauss "boundaries are relative to the action system of the bound person" In the case of the places of the promontory in the foreground we could say that the farmer as a bound person is bounded by the limits of his meager field, a field that conforms his 'action system'.  The shepherd (and his flock) is bounded by the limits of the grazing field, which conforms his action system (as well as that of the sheep). The 'within' is then for them the areas of their respective plots, 'within which' their respective sets of interconnected elements are located. In the case of the angler, Strauss 'action system' comes handy because there is no actual boundary in front of him; we could set this boundary according to the maximum distance that he can throw his fishing line since he doesn't seem to care about anything else; Brueghel depicts him so absorbed in his actions that he even fails to be perturbed by the splash made, only a short distance away from him, by poor Icarus plunging into the water.

     We all seem to have a tendency (probably imbued in us by our Cartesian-influenced system of education) to think that 'within and without' are objective spatial relations. It may be counter-argued that the relation between within and without is not a spatial phenomenon, it is a phenomenon of the scope of action {169}. It does happen in many cases that the scope of action entails only elements that are inside the place boundaries, so that the spatial and the action perspectives coincide; regarding those outside the boundary the person has no control over them, from which stems the pervasive distinction between system and environment [13]. This is well illustrated, for instance, by the sailing ship as place for its sailors; in the nearest of them we see a sailor working up on the masts, his 'scope of action' includes the sails but he has no control over the wind that impacts them (hence the wind as element of the environment)


     Let me recall again that:   ---- The concept of place is essentially the concept of a bounded but open region within which a set of interconnected elements can be located. {16}  


  The idea of place as a 'bounded but open' region may be puzzling at first sight because of a certain tension between the ideas of 'open' and of 'bounded'. (On the other hand, it seems to raise no eyebrows in the context of Physics [14]).  As for the set of interconnected elements which may be located within a place, let's return to The Fall of Icarus:

   The closest place in the foreground, that of the farmer includes, among others, the peasant himself, his plough, the horse, the tilled soil and the portion yet to be tilled; these are obviously interconnected elements located within a 'bounded but open region' delimited by the place boundaries (the curved lines formed by the low plants that encircle it). There is no obvious boundary in the vertical direction but, because of the posture of the peasant looking downwards, the impression is conveyed that the top boundary is not situated much higher than his head. (It is mostly in the upwards direction, with usually imagined boundaries that the notion of 'scope of action' comes handy)

       The shepherd, grass, soil, sheep, etc. are the main interconnected elements of the second place in the foreground, which may be said to be bounded in the horizontal plane by the edges of the promontory. Here, as opposed to the place of the farmer, the top boundary must be situated much higher since the shepherd is looking (some would say gaping) upwards and his scope of action must include whatever he is experiencing from the view.

     The distant town at the left may be of interest in the present context. It has clear boundaries in the horizontal plane (perhaps a city wall?) and, as for the vertical, we have the tall church towers, which are built tall in an effort to bridge between earth and sky, or rather Earth and Heaven. Here the number of interconnected elements must for sure be pretty large, but the town (particularly medieval towns) also conforms an integrated whole. As such, it represents just another interconnected element in the landscape, as significant as the uninhabited island facing it from the right side. In this resides one of the more weighty differences between 'landscape' and 'place'; a difference worthy of being reflected upon.


  Of the nesting of places:

        Places also open up to sets of other places through being nested, along with those places, within a larger spatial structure or framework of activity…In being acquainted with a single place, then, one is also acquainted with a large network of places. {105} 

           In The Fall of Icarus we may discern several ways by which the above could be effected; in the following I will proceed through what appears to me to be the most obvious way:

      The water area in the bay may be considered as being nested in the surrounding land; but the water area may also be considered as an extended place that allows for the nesting of a number of smaller places (the ships, the islands, the castle ruins, etc.,) The distant town with the mountains on its back appears also to be nested in the sea, as well as the cone-shaped mountain at the horizon line in the middle of the picture. Actually, most of the places appear to be nested in the water expanse, even though we reckon that many of them must have continuity with the land area; such is the case also of the promontory in the foreground to which our attention is artfully drawn by Brueghel.  

           In the promontory itself, the terraced area in which the soil is being cultivated may be said to be clearly nested on the lower grazing place, where the shepherd and most of the sheep are located; this place in turn being nested on a lower land basis at the water level. Here the spatial structure is clearly defined for us mainly on account of the neat delineation of boundaries.

    Neatly delineated boundaries is a characteristic of landscapes that may be classed into the Norberg-Schulz category of 'classical' landscapes, so that it may be said that the 'classical' landscape affords a clear, net, juxtaposition of the constituent places, resulting in unambiguous ways of their nesting.

      Juxtaposition does not replace one thing with another but places one thing besides another. {160} 

  This placement of one place besides another may be effected in a number of ways: in some cases two or more adjoining places share a common neat boundary, without them loosing their individuality or identity. In other cases the boundaries of adjoining places are not line-like but diffuse, blurred, difficult to ascertain; not so much that places cannot be distinguished but one has difficulty in deciding where one place ends and another begins; as a consequence the nesting of places appears ambiguous and many possibilities may be discerned. Of course, between typical examples of those two extreme cases there are many in-between situations; we can always find numerous examples to illustrate a gradual transition.

Of the 'romantic' landscape… and of Ruisdael:  

      It is quite difficult to find a Brueghel or a painting of any of his contemporaries to illustrate this category and the nearest I could get is around a hundred years later with landscapes of Ruisdael such as this one:




             Jacob I.van Ruisdael: Rivuleat in a Forest; (ca. 1660)   [16] 

       Of the 'romantic' landscapes, writes Norberg-Schulz, that they are characterized by an indefinite multitude of different places. We may also discern a multitude of places in some examples of the 'classical' landscape so that the difference lies not so much in numbers but in the quality of 'definite' versus 'indefinite', the latter may be taken to mean undefined, open-ended, unspecified, vague, indistinct’ and other words of the same sort, all of which convey the idea of how places compose these sorts of landscapes. The poet, as usual, conveys the idea better and paraphrasing Campbell:  places ...that the mind's eye sees melt and glow. [16a]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

          The Nordic forests present us with the most fitting images of that indistinctedness of places. Of them as landscape Norberg-Schulz writes:

     "      Deep and inscrutable, it is without direction or movement. Its space is tight but nonetheless boundless, its mood the passage of dawn to dusk." [16b]

         It is not easy and besides, undesirable, to separate this aspect of lack of definition of the constituent places in the horizontal plane from what happens above them:

        "The sky is hardly experienced as a total hemisphere, but it is narrowed in between the contours of trees and rocks, and is moreover continuously modified by clouds." "The sun is relatively low and creates a varied play of spots of light and shadow, with clouds and vegetation acting as enriching "filters"[1]:42    

         Here, to gain a foothold, man has to create for himself space that is a clearing in the forest: "an aperture that humans have created in the unserveyable. As such, this space becomes a home, in that home is precisely a known place of dwelling in an unknown world"[16]:9 Such one is the clearing by the sides of the rivulet in the painting above; a place embedded in the forest and not apart but a part of it. The two human figures in the center are barely visible; they might have gone unnoticed had they been located in other places and not within the clearing.

     In those places it is not humans that play the leading role but trees; human figures, if at all visible within the whole scene, are secondary characters; it is the trees which convey the drama, the pathos.  What has been said of Ruisdael's trees fits well to  those in the forests of the 'romantic' landscape: "they are the protagonists of a natural drama, living, flourishing, dying and decaying." …"It is not human history, but its poignant analogy in nature" [10a]:167 

   We could say that: …the concept of a bounded but open region within which a set of interconnected elements can be located, {16}   still holds in the 'romantic' landscape, only that the bounded has a different significance. In the absence of obvious, unambiguous, boundaries, we are free to discern all sorts of place relations within broader places; places are still juxtaposed, only that the  "one place besides another" is effected through drawing imaginary convoluted lines around what we may decide, quite arbitrarily, to call an individual place. Regarding nesting of places, there are no clear guidelines or cues as in the 'classical' landscape; it is then left to our fancy to decide how are places nested in each other.

           Of the 'romantic' landscape it may be said also that, conceptually, it is the farthest removed from notions of Newtonian, absolute, space…quite the opposite to the 'cosmic' landscape, to which we now turn our attention. 

      Of the 'cosmic' landscape:

     Place plays a peculiar role in the character of what Norberg-Schulz calls 'cosmic' landscape, a landscape that "does not contain individual places, but forms a continuous neutral ground" [1]:43. Here we find, as far as our vision can reach, just one place with no boundaries and hence un-nested.

   We found such landscapes in the sandy deserts of Africa, in the vast expanses of water in the oceans, in the extended prairies (like those of the Argentinean pampas), the Asian deserts, in the polar extensions of ice and other regions [18]. But in the sandy deserts we find sometimes dunes; in the oceans, waves; in the pampas, wind-made ripples and in the ice extensions, cracks; all of which can somehow break the uniformity, the monotony of the sameness. In the two images below we don't have even distractions like those; as such, it may be taken to represent an archetypical 'cosmic' landscape.


                                    Gobi Desert Landscape, photo by H. Doron (2007) [17]


                           Mabuim Hill, photo by S. Ohanna (2012)  


    Of the cosmic landscape, as epitomized by the desert, writes Norberg-Schulz: "In the desert the complexities of our concrete life-world are reduced to a few, simple phenomena. The infinite extension of the monotonous barren ground; the immense embracing vault of the cloudless sky (which is rarely experienced as a sector between rocks and trees); the burning sun which gives an almost shadowless light; the dry warm air, which tell us how important breathing is for the experience of place."    

      …the concept of bounded and open region, within which a set of interconnected elements can be located, does not seem relevant for such places. We might say that Place turns into absolute space, perhaps the closest we can experience on earth of space as void, the kenon of the Greeks.  

        The concept of void brings with it the idea of a homogeneous and undifferentiated realm of pure extension…so what is left is nothing but an empty but open 'space' – and it is precisely this idea that lies at the heart of thinking about space in the work of Descartes and Newton.{26}

     We can say then that here, what is left of Place, is nothing but a nearly continuous, isotropic, plane turned into space by the clear atmosphere; as said, the closest we can get on Earth to experience space according to the notions of Newton's absolute space. For the humans that dare to face this immensities, the space is traveled, not settled, distances are measured in terms of the time it takes to go from one resting point to the next.  

 Of Place, Space and Landscape: 

    Let us turn now to the question of places that compose space and landscape. To exemplify some of the notions to be discussed here I have chosen one of Brueghel's works which, not unique among his landscape drawings, seems quite appropriate to illustrate the main points. 



                                             Pieter Brueghel The Rabbit Hunt  [19]   

      Consider first the foreground at the right side of the picture: again, as in The Fall of Icarus, human figures around which a definite place is conformed and a promontory accentuating proximity to the viewer. This promontory may be considered as one individual place to which the artist thought to attract our attention by placing it just behind the scene of action that gives the picture its name. The boundaries of this place are again quite neat and result from it being higher than the surrounding ground. [20]

    The place that conforms the (right) foreground may be thought as being nested into a vast expanse conformed by the sky vault, the farther mountains, the land and the water areas. Although we could call this vast expanse a huge place, the word space seems more indicated because it agrees with our common intuitive connotation of space as vastness. A multitude of places may be distinguished in this space and one of the issues issue to be explored here is how these places relate to the space and space to the landscape.

    I have proposed elsewhere [21] that landscape is, basically, "unbounded space as experienced"; here I'll deal only succinctly with what this basic landscape meaning entails.

    [22Landscape is differentiated from Place on the basis of just one feature: place as a "open and bounded" region of the world and landscape as "open and unbounded region" (since unbounded, the open can be omitted in the latter) The elevation on the foreground right, being bounded, is designated as a place and the whole of the picture, being unbounded space, is designated as a landscape.[20]. . As Ingold [10a] aptly notes: "The landscape is not space". For an unbounded space to be considered a landscape another basic condition should be fulfilled: the space must be experienced as such. For mere 'unbounded space' I would reserve the words view or vista or sight. [23]   

         For our present purpose the use of 'experience' in a non-empiricist fashion might be ample; the term may be taken to refer to human existence as it comprises capacities to think, to feel, to grasp, to act and so on {16}. Thus, unbounded space' may be considered as a particular frame within which experience is to be understood.

      A relevant question within the context of the basic meaning [24] of landscape as "experienced unbounded space" is: should the 'space' pertinent to landscape be understood as 'subjective' or 'objective' space? An answer to that question may be found through:

         understanding the way in which living creatures find themselves in space, both in relation to their bodies and to one another, requires more than just a concept of space as articulated within physical theory {44}

  The idea of subjective space is tied up to the idea of an experiencing creature around which such space is organized. For a creature that has a grasp of the concept of subjective space – and a grasp of the concept of subjective space is necessary, as was seen earlier, to the grasp of the concept of objective space- the grasp of that concept must also be tied up to the creature's grasp of its own self-identity and more specifically to the creature's grasp of the concept of itself. {172}

       The idea of space that is at issue could thus be said to be an idea of subjective or egocentric space, just in so far as it is a space which is tied up to some feature of the creature's own awareness or experience—we may even talk of the space at issue here as an experiential space. {50}


      Because of the nature of the landscape experience, the concept of landscape cannot be grasped merely in terms of the concept of objective space [25]; we might appeal occasionally to the concept of objective space (the Newtonian (absolute) space and also non-Euclidean versions) [26] but rather as a secondary ingredient of the notion of landscape.

     Now, as Malpas cautions, for a creature to have a grasp of space, to have a grasp of the concept of space is not a necessary condition. This is much the same as regards to Art; a person can enjoy, admire or contemplate a painting but these activities do not require a grasp of the concept of Art. But, to appreciate a painting as a work of Art certainly requires a grasp of the concept as much as to appreciate a landscape requires a grasp of the concept of landscape.

     Within the meaning of landscape as an experienced unbounded space, whatever applies to objective space rebounds on objective landscape and whatever applies to subjective space rebounds on subjective landscape; since a landscape experience is essentially subjective, to consider a landscape objectively (however attractive the idea may appear to some)appears like a contradiction in terms.


    …it is an interest, not so much in place as experienced but rather in the way in the way in which place can be viewed as a structure within which experience is possible. {71}

     If we were to focus our interest in 'unbounded space' in line with such an interest in place that is, in space as an structure within which experience is possible, two main question arise: a)What could possibly be the structure of space pertinent to landscape? and b) What are the particularities, if any, that differentiate the experiences possible within unbounded space from those within the open and bounded region which is place? (or, in short what differentiates the landscape experience from place experience?)       

    In order to explore possible answers to those questions let us return to Brueghel's Landscape with Rabbit Hunters:

      The fellow who is shown just at the moment of sending an arrow towards the rabbits appears to be concerned only with Place; first, place as 'a bounded region' that happens to contain desirable rabbits; second, place as 'an open region' (the rabbits can escape to adjoining places and leave him empty-handed);last but not least, place as a region within which a set of interconnected elements can be located (among others: the rabbits, the dog, the trees, the grass, the hunter himself, the fellow lurking behind the tree who is obviously not after rabbits). It may be said that at that instant in time the hunter has a strong sense of place but no sense of landscape at all, that is, he is not experiencing the space outside his particular place.

       Quite a different state of mind could be expected from the person who is represented as the small, enigmatic, figure standing on the small terrace to the left and down of the castle. What he is doing there we don't really know and can only guess, but since he's not engaged in any physical action we may safely imagine that he is contemplating the landscape as it unfolds to him from his place. What appears to me remarkable in this engraving is how Brueghel managed to convey the impression of vastness of the landscape. From the vantage point of the figure on the small terrace the landscape may indeed be seen in all its vastness; from the distant mountains in the background (right)and the far away town close to the horizon line, to the undulating river with the sailing boats and to the houses close to him, not to mention the sky vault with the black cloud and birds. All these regions, and many others within his field of vision, conform individual places each with its own identity and its particular boundaries. However, to the contemplating figure, those places are not so much regions within which a set of interconnected elements can be located but rather figures, shapes, forms or outlines which, through their juxtaposition in space configure the whole of the space visible to him.

        Considered this way (and there are undoubtedly many other ways of considering it!) the space pertinent to this landscape appears as a loose structure composed by the display of individual places; but, individual places that are present in a way that form is more significant than content.  It is not a mere collection of the places included in the particular space, nor an ordered array, but a display configured through their largely haphazard spatial placement. Configured seems the proper word because the result is a configuration in its sense in Gestalt psychology, that is a configuration which forms an unified whole and that cannot be predicted from its individual elements.



        Of things that should be said lest I might be misinterpreted:

          The above exposition might lead the reader to the opinion that I am siding with a purely spectatorial conception of landscapes. I may have given that impression because of the emphasis placed here on the typology of Norberg-Schulz which in many ways conforms to such a conception. But, as I have proposed elsewhere [27] his typology may be said to categorize landscapes as primary landscape genres as contrasted with secondary landscape genres like the mythical, poetical or power-contested landscapes.  There is no contradiction between primary and secondary ones; the secondary ones result from juxtaposing and sometimes superimposing other conceptual frames upon the primary ones.

       Some examples taken from Brueghel's landscapes may perhaps help to clarify the relation between both types of conceptual classes. The Fall of Icarus was here considered as a representation of a classical landscape according to Norberg-Schulz typology. Should we give preeminence in our attention to the depicted event of Icarus plunging into the water, the picture may be said to represent a mythical landscape. Here we have an interesting example of a relatively minor place (the place of Icarus entering into the sea) imposing its character to the whole landscape. But, it should be emphasized that, to label it 'a mythical landscape' does not entail at all that it ceases to be a classical landscape.

          Much the same could be said for other Brueghel landscapes [28] where the presence in-place of Spanish soldiers brings forth to mind the military occupation and subjection of Flanders of the time, thus making it the representation of a 'Landscape of Power or Conflict'. That the Rabbit Hunter looks as about to be attacked by the fellow with the spear, if taken as symbolizing a humble poacher being chased by a guard paid by the landowner, would re-represent the picture in the light of class-struggle, (which may have been what Brueghel had in mind). But, if landscapes are our primary field of interest, all these various perspectives should be treated, in my opinion, as superimposed on a primary spectatorial perspective.




Notes and References:

 Please recall that in the above text numbers between { } brackets refer to page numbers of J. Malpas book Place and Experience.  of

[1]Norberg-Schulz, Christian: Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, Rizzoli Publishers (1991) (for long out of print)

[2] 'Natural' is too vague a term when applied to landscapes. In my reading of Norberg-Schulz his intended meaning was 'non-designed landscapes', a term which includes landscapes that may be the result of  human intervention, but excludes those that have been purposely altered (designed) to achieve a aesthetic or functional effect.

[3] Goldfarb, J.D. Landscape Genres. As discussed in there the treatment of the categories through prototype theory makes the forth type, what N-S calls 'complex' landscapes unnecessary.  

[3a] To navigate use the Site Map in [3]; Norberg-Schulz typology on the site map's left.

[4] As I have said elsewhere: "at the risk of being irreverent" (because I have great respect and admiration for Norberg- Schulz writings) I'd venture to say that his naming of said categories of landscape is unfortunate.  The terms Classical, Romantic and Cosmic have default meanings in common usage which have little connection, if at all, with Norberg-Schulz intended meanings of the terms. Had he called the landscape categories simply "types A,B and C", a lot of misunderstandings and misreadings of his typology would have been averted.  

[5] Places are to be here understood as including what Norberg-Schulz [1]:10 refers to as "the vertical dimension (earth-sky)" which he tends to treat somewhat separately throughout from the horizontal dimension, his "outside-inside". Hence when I talk of character of the landscape being the result of arrangement of places, I take into account the relation earth-sky. Since space is treated by Norberg-Schulz "not primarily as a mathematical concept but as an existential dimension", it goes without saying that the vertical dimension alluded above is not so much a metric but an existential dimension. This point is further developed in the following when considering places in The Fall of Icarus.  

[6] If the categories are conceived as landscape genres, since genres are not mutually exclusive, a given landscape may be ascribed to more than one genre. Within the context of prototype theory a given landscape may be a good exemplar of one genre and a weak example of another.  

[7] I will be using the terms 'compose' and 'composition' in a sense similar to that accepted for Music. As Hofstadter aptly writes regarding primary and tertiary structure: "Music is not a mere linear sequence of notes. Our mind perceives music on a level far higher than that. We chunk notes into phrases, phrases into melodies, melodies into movements and movements into full pieces." (Hofsdtadter D.R.: Godel, Escher, Bach, Basic Books Inc., 1980:525). Metaphorically speaking, the constituent places 'compose' a landscape in the way melodies or themes compose a movement or a full musical piece. But we perceive music and landscape on a level much higher than their syntax.

[8] Malpas J.E. : Place and Experience , A Philosophical Topography,  Cambridge Univ. Press, (1999); page numbers refer to the digital edition of 2007.

[9] I call it a turning point because of what he writes in Genius Loci (p. 5) : "In Intentions in Architecture art and architecture were analyzed 'scientifically' …today I think other methods more illuminating. When we treat architecture analytically… we miss the very quality which is the object of man's identification, and which may give him a sense of existential foothold. … First of all I owe to Heidegger the concept of dwelling. Existential foothold and dwelling are synonymous and dwelling in an existential sense is the purpose of architecture"

[10] As for the humble opinion, I must make mine as well what Tim Ingold wrote preceding his observations on another of Brueghel's landscapes: "I am not an art historian or critic, and my purpose is not to analyze the painting in terms of style, composition or aesthetic effect". Ingold T.: The Temporality of the Landscape, World Archeology, Vol. 25, No. 2, (1993), pp. 152-174

[10a] For some of these pictorial tricks and for learned insights on Brueghel's work see:

Gibson W.S.: Pleasant Places, The Rustic Landscape from Brueghel to Ruisdael; California Univ. Press (2000)

[10b] Recently some experts, using sophisticated IR techniques, concluded that this painting was not painted by Brueghel but by some disciples that copied from a now lost original. Till the matter is finally settled I'll keep calling it a Brueghel.

[11] I'll be using frequently here the expressions 'to distinguish', 'distinction' and 'components'; I take them in their sense within cognitive science and notably, in the writings of H. Maturana.

The following excerpts, from his Ontology of Observing might make clear those senses:

 "In the operation of distinction an observer brings forth a unity (an entity, a whole) as well as the medium in which it is distinguished, and entails on this all the operational coherences that make the distinction of the unity possible…" (pp12)

"Unities may be distinguished as simple or composite ones. A simple unity arises defined and characterized by a collection of properties as a matter of distinction in the praxis of living of the observer.  A composite unity is one distinguished as a simple unity that, through further operations of distinction is decomposed by the observer into components that through their composition would constitute the original simple unity."      

    … "Accordingly, there is no such a thing as the distinction of a component independently of the unity that it integrates… Indeed there is no such a thing as a free component floating around independently of the composite unity that it integrates."

   The literature in which these concepts are further discussed and applied is too large to be listed here. For the interested reader I recommend to start with a recent publication and go backwards in the Refs. See for instance: Maturana H.: The origin and conservation of self-consciousness, Kibernetes, 34, pp. 54-88 (2005).

 Another useful source to start with is :

Von Glasersfeld E.: Distinguishing the Observer: An Attempt to interpreting Maturana.

  Using Maturana's terminology, Places are considered in the present Essay both as simple and composite unities. As simple unities when they are distinguished as mere components composing a landscape (medium) and as composite unities when distinguishing the interconnected elements (components in Maturana's terms) that are located in-place.    

[12] A question that may be found in the Quiz section of a popular magazine: "How many places are there in this picture?" It is an interesting question, rhetorically speaking, because there is no way to give a definite answer unless someone is armed with a clear-cut, truth-conditional, definition of place. Such a definition, although admittedly, far less mind-disquieting than a multiplicity of meanings, would impoverish the notion of landscape to the point of barrenness. As I hope it will be clear in the present exposition, I'll be doing my best to stand clear off definitions, be them of place, landscape…and of almost everything else.

[13] For an outline see "What is Systems Theory?"  in the Principia Cybernetica website.

     I cannot resist the temptation of drawing, at least as a footnote, an analogy between some concepts of Place and those of System, although I intend to deal with it more in-depth in a future contribution.

Place (as opposed to Space) appears to have little importance in Physical Sciences (except as location in Cartesian coordinates). I think that this may largely be due because System seems quite adequate there instead of Place (which is then largely confined to the Human Sciences).

System (not to be confused with system in Philosophy) is usually thought of as set of interacting components forming an integrated whole; also place is an integrated whole and within Place a set of interconnected elements can be located; (as for 'open and unbounded region see [14]). A system is delimited as any region of space which we choose to select for the purposes of study. In doing this we create imaginary boundaries so that there is a 'within' and an 'outside'. What is 'within' or 'inside' is 'contained' and the 'outside' constitutes the system's surroundings. "We scope a system by defining its boundary; this means choosing which entities are inside the system and which are outside - part of the environment. "    

System may be said to have 'structure', 'interconnectivity' and 'behaviour' and the same may be said of Place. Admittedly the 'behaviour' of systems is far less sophisticated than that which can be ascribed to Place, so, there the analogy ends (for the 20th century, but probably not for the 22nd )  

[14] Within Thermodynamics an 'open system' is defined as one which continuously Interacts with its environment (as contrasted with the concept of 'isolated' system, which doesn't). The interaction can take the form of information, energy, or material transfers into or out of the system boundary, depending on the discipline which defines the concept.

The sailing ship in the painting is bounded by thick planks of wood, but it is open because it is rocked by the sea waves and is moved by the wind. The place of the farmer in the foreground, although clearly bounded, whatever is planted on it will be affected by rain water and sun rays entering it from the outside, that is, the environment.  

[15] Art critics traditionally refer to this character as a simpleton on account of the somewhat vacant expression of his face. I humbly disagree; I'd say he's quite the opposite; it may well be that the shepherd has, a moment ago, seen a man falling from the sky;  quite a logical reaction would be to look around the sky to see if more men are falling down. Sort of a scientific approach: if something odd happens, to look around for similar phenomena.

[16] The painting is at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. An interactive reproduction, allowing sector zooming, may be viewed at: arthermitage.org  

[16a] The lines are actually: "painting in sound the forms of joy, and woe/ Until the mind's eye sees them melt and glow"  from Thomas Campbell: Theodric (1815?)

 [16b] Norberg-Schulz C.: Nightlands, MIT press, (1996):6

[17] Gobi desert Landscape, Omnogovi, Mongolia; Image from Wikipedia Commons, reference file:


[18] I stand clear of mentioning in this context 'interplanetary space' which may be thought as the 'cosmic' landscape par excellence; although, personally, I don't find objectionable to consider the firmament as landscape, many people do.

[19] Reproduced from Klein A.H.: Graphic Worlds of Peter Bruegel The Elder; Dover Publ. (1963)

[20]. Boundaries of places may be established not only through lines on a plane. They may result also from  a place being an elevation or a depression relative to the surrounding found; the cliff-like, almost vertical appearance of the promontory in this case, make up for a neat, clear cut boundary.

[21] Goldfarb J.D.: About Definitions of Landscape.  There the basic meaning was treated as a stipulative definition; the former sense is more appropriate, see [24]

[22]. Of course the picture is bounded by the frame, however, the picture is only a representation of a landscape and the above basic meaning is intended for actual landscapes; a landscape painting or photo may or may not convey to us the impression that there is a natural continuation outside the frame.

[23] A view or vista would thus connote a visual image as "immediately perceived"  (if there is such a thing as non mediated perception, which is open to question) or, perhaps better, casually perceived without receiving more than a casual glance; a region that though 'looked at' stays largely unnoticed.

[24] Although being 'unbounded space' and 'being experienced' are necessary conditions, the above meaning falls short of a truth-conditional definition (at the most one of those lexical defs. found in dictionaries) because of the difficulty of finding a consensual definition of 'experience'.

    Even without a definition, the notion of a landscape experience, as a type of experience that can be sufficiently differentiated from other types may be satisfactorily substantiated.- P. Haezrahi in The Contemplative Activity, Allen and Unwin Publ. (1954),pp.10,  states the conditions that must be fulfilled for an 'aesthetic experience' in order to state: "The aesthetic experience exists". I maintain that they are fulfilled also in the case of 'a landscape experience', especially for having "a certain distinct and circumscribed meaning of its own"

[25] I am well aware that if I were asked -- what the 'concept of landscape is? -- I'd be hard pressed for a satisfactory answer. Landscape as a notion is so opaque and diffuse that it is questionable whether it may be stated as a single concept.

[26]Heelan P.A. in Space Perception and The Philosophy of Science, California Univ. Press, (1988) presents a non-Euclidean Space which he calls "Hyperbolic Visual Space"; his treatment of it is largely that of an objective space, but hyperbolic space seems to me quite promising as a bridge between objective and subjective space; in particular through the notions of his Part II: "Toward a Philosophy of Science based on the Primacy of Perception".

[27] See for instance: Goldfarb J.D.: Landscape Genres and Cognitive Linguistics (2010)

My differentiation between primary and secondary landscape genres is an adaptation from the primary and secondary speech genres proposed by Bakhtin in: The Problem of Speech Genres (see: Bakhtin M.M. Speech Genres and other Late Essays, edited by Emerson and Holquist, Texas Univ. Press (1986) pp.61-62) Primary genres take form in unmediated communication (perception) while secondary ones arise in more complex and comparatively highly developed cultural communication.

[28] See for instance Brueghel's: Ascent of Christ to Mount Calvary or  The Massacre of the Innocents.