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Title: Looking at painted landscapes from different perspectives : Albert Bierstadt, “Floating iceberg and a small boat" (ca. 1884)
Authors: Kunkler, Christine Stefanie
Keywords: Philosophy, Ancient
Issue Date: 2015
Abstract: This dissertation is at its core a thesis in the classical sense: While "Looking at Painted Landscapes from Different Perspectives", it raises views that are disputable and by no means complete. After first proposing to revisit ancient Greek philosophy and transfer the insights gained from this procedure to the history of art, the argument stops to pause at various art theories on its way towards modernity, finally analyzing Albert Bierstadt´s painting "Floating Iceberg and a Small Boat" (Fig. 43) which forms part of the collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA) at Valletta. Tying in a whole series of important developments in the arts themselves, it shows that art- even landscape painting- and politics are much more intertwined than it is generally surmised and that man finds himself in a constant combat between philosophical and sophistic forces. The thesis culminates in three different apex points. The first one is the analysis of Albert Bierstadt´s painting and its embedding into its proper context, as the title indicates. However, equally important are the arguments that lead to an application of the term world landscape to Bierstadt´s Valletta iceberg- painting. And the third issue, which might be the most challenging and most provocative of them all, is the idea to divide works of art according to their respective relation to truth. It therefore proposes a redefinition of the term realism. All three debates are linked to each other, though, and should be read together. To redefine realism is at first sight just a matter, which concerns the arts in general; however, art is a part of society, not apart from it. Art and art criticism reflect socio-political conditions, and hence a redefinition of realism automatically correlates with rethinking society as a whole. Albert Bierstadt´s oeuvre unites both aspects: On the one hand, works such as "The Rocky Mountains. Lander´s Peak" (Fig.32) suggest a sophistic approach based on idealization which aims at deliberately misleading the viewers while on the other hand, "Floating Iceberg and a Small Boat" with its realism and transcendental tendency portrays a sincere quest for metaphysical truth. Another possible title for this thesis could have been "Looking at Painted Landscapes in a New Light". " It is new to try to give Aristotelian and Platonic aesthetics and their reception in art theory so much room and relevance in the analysis of landscape painting. Usually this is by- passed with some occasional adjectives such as "neo- platonic" without authors looking at the classical sources for a second thought. In the course of the thesis, the effect of Humboldt and his writings on American 19th landscape paintings are explained in some detail. It is maybe not so well known that Humboldt´s Kosmos, Vol. II, in which he discusses landscape painting, is based on an aristotelian approach which was in fact quite uncommon in the 19th century when German Idealism and Kant still seemed to have been the dominant philosophy. New also is the discussion of the painting "Floating Iceberg and a Small Boat", for so far, nobody has researched it. Therefore it has, of course, also never been compared to his most famous painting "The Rocky Mountains. Lander´s Peak". This comparison gives rise to discussing the issue of truth in painting and it argues that realism and truth are connected, while sophism is considered to be the counterforce. It is emphasized that in such discussion not only the relationship between title and content becomes important but also the usage of an artwork and the context in which it is placed, i.e. whether it becomes a tool in the hands of Philosophy or that of Sophism. Therefore the thesis also touches on certain points in the relationship between aesthetics and ethics. In a way, the discussion, which contrasts "The Iceberg" painting with "Lander´s Peak", might be regarded as a springboard for a social critique. The text is interrupted by several Excursi, which contain more detailed longer quotes, text analysis and additional image material which are not essential to the understanding of the thesis. They may be ignored and only consulted in case the more interested reader would like to proceed with an in depth study. The following dissertation makes it clear right from the beginning that it should be read as an interdisciplinary work. It therefore could be an interesting starting point of discussion between the various disciplines from which all could mutually benefit.
Description: B.A.(HONS)HIST.OF ART
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - FacArtHa - 2015

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