Friday, December 20, 2013

The Romantic Era (pt. 12)

Nature's beauty was not its only characteristic to receive the praise of the Romantics.  They viewed nature as the ultimate power in the world, a kind of deity or earthly representation of the heavenly throne in might, majesty, and truth.  It's hard to describe a love for nature, but it is something which, I think, most people can easily enough understand.  Nature is a powerful, awesome force that is worthy of humankind's respect; but for the Romantics, reverential views toward nature took on pseudo-spiritual qualities.  Thomas Cole's epic series, called The Course of the Empire, comes across didactically, almost like a sermon.
The series was painted in the 1830s by American painter Thomas Cole.  It is a series of canvases that follow a linear storyline about the progression of time and, through it, man's brevity and nature's constancy.  Each image in the series has a title, explaining the timeline of this "course."  In order, they are: 1. Savage State, 2. Pastoral State, 3. Consummation of the Empire, 4. Destruction, 5. Desolation.
       1. Savage State

       2. Pastoral State

       3. Consummation of the Empire

       4. Destruction

       5. Desolation

The Romantics had a fear that increased industrialism would lead to a modern dystopia; and that machines would replace man.  They feared the opening of steel factories and mills; their polluting influence on nature was viewed as a kind of "rape of the land."  The mechanization of mankind through industrialism, the mindless production of materials for socioeconomic, consumerist ends, was the pervading dread of the Romantics, and paintings like this—of Nature taking back what's hers—are good examples of the deification of nature during this time.  In Thomas Cole's series, nature is incorruptible, unbeatable, and eternal; nature is God.  When the later Victorians came and "killed off" nature, so to speak, questions of the existence of God immediately followed, and what Matthew Arnold described as the withdrawal of faith brought us into the Modern era.

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