Nature into landscape
: pictorial and poetic landscape representation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Campanian wall-painting

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis argues that landscape was thought about in terms of its representation in an ancient Roman context. Starting with a twentieth-century Surrealist reflection on landscape painting, this thesis proceeds to locate a history for similar meta-landscape awareness that extends back at least to the first century BCE/CE. I have chosen pictorial and poetic corpora – Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Campanian wall-paintings – which were both produced throughout the course of the late first century BCE and the first century CE and in which landscapes play a significant role. My suggestion here is not that these corpora alone exemplify the point, but rather that they serve as a subsection of a rich topic that has thus far been underappreciated. Whilst the subject of landscape has seen comprehensive scholarly analysis since the nineteenth century, far less has been done to press the question of its cross-medial representation more persistently. This thesis asks what it means to represent the landscape and what is at stake in doing so.
The striking presence of landscape paintings in the Romano-Campanian corpus has encouraged a long history of scholarship. Whilst it seems unlikely that we can speak of an ‘invention’ of landscape painting in the first century BCE, the pervasiveness of natural imagery in various painted forms does at least suggest a taste for landscape representation at this time. Indeed, an array of texts have also been employed throughout scholarship to give us insight into first-century BCE/CE attitudes towards landscape; authors such as Pliny the Younger and Elder, Vitruvius, Varro, Cicero and Virgil show an impulse for thinking about and using the landscape in textual composition and imagery that runs parallel to the pictorial corpus. This thesis reconsiders these paintings alongside a text which has not yet been sufficiently recognised as a compelling literary landscape resource: Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
My Introduction starts by defining the terms of the thesis – ‘landscape’ and ‘representation’ – and analysing their place in an ancient Roman context. It then turns to the Methodology for the chapters that follow, outlining each of my four structuring themes, the scholarship that stands behind each one and the insight into landscape representation we can glean therefrom. Each theme explores an element of landscape representation and each is articulated through a myth that is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Campanian wall-painting.
Chapter 1 discusses Polyphemus as a mediator of pictorial/poetic relations in the landscape. Chapter 2 investigates the potential that the myth of Narcissus offered in thinking about ars and natura, as they collide in ‘naturalistic’ representation, as well as in the representation of nature. Chapter 3 turns to the figure of Orpheus, who proves to be the ultimate creator of landscape as an artificial construction. Following this, Chapter 4 then identifies a self-consciousness in the myth of Actaeon surrounding the framing of space and the production of defined, landscape images.
The thesis ends where it began, with Magritte’s Surrealist painting and a comparison with a landscape painting from first-century Campania. We will see that the modernist narrative of a post-Renaissance ‘landscape invention’ ultimately fails to do justice to the equally rich discourse on meta-landscape representation mediated through first-century paintings and poetry.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Squire (Supervisor) & William Fitzgerald (Supervisor)

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