© Titian: Portrait of a Man, ca. 1512

Man and Nature

The theme Man and Nature is divided into two subjects: Man in Nature and Nature in Man.

Man in Nature is about our relationship to nature through time. We follow the place of humans in nature from the Renaissance, when nature is seen as being subject to man through the emergence of nature as a primary artistic motif in Dutch works from the 1600s to the new relationship between people and nature that grows forth in modernism. The subject deals with external nature – the nature we encounter when walking in the forest.

Nature in Man addresses our own inner nature as humans, which, for example, might be female sexuality, historically portrayed in highly different ways in art.

Man in Nature

’Human’ and ’nature’ are two commonly used words, which we use in the everyday both independently and jointly with one another. They act as – and are often used as – two universal words that would be understandable to anyone in any period. In other words, we tend to use the word ‘human’ as though we are all in agreement as to the meaning of the word. If we were to ask an individual from the middle ages what he or she understood by the word human, he or she would probably have a much different understanding of the word than we do. Human and nature are historical words, and this makes them very subject to change.

As modern humans we often mean ‘country’ when we use the word ‘nature,’ as we never tend to use the word to refer to cities or towns. For example, we might say: “Should we go for a nature walk?” and by this mean a walk outside a city or town. Town and country are thereby posited in contrast with one another, where the country is often portrayed by the artist in landscape paintings. In these paintings the painter shows the relationship between humans and nature. The landscape painting becomes an image of human relationship to the country.

During the Renaissance, the landscape was typically a supplement to the important aspect of the painting, namely the human. Nature was used as the background upon which humans were depicted. During the 1600s, the Dutch began to use landscape as a political element. Artists tried to establish a national identity through landscape painting and depictions of nature.

© Donck and Hulst: Couple in Netherlandish landscape, 1635-8

In the painting by Hulst and Donck we see a couple from the town standing in a landscape. They are almost pasted onto the scene. They are cutizens of a city depicted as on the countryside, and the country is tyoically nederlandish. Thereby they demonstrate their relationship to the nation.

Nature in Man

The inner nature of humankind has been portrayed in different ways throughout history. There have been periods in which one fought to constrain people’s inner nature, and other periods during which freedom and liberal thinking were promoted. Inner nature has often been associated with taboo-laden areas such as sex, eroticism and lust, which are subject to different depictions in art depending on how one might view homosexuality, for example.[

"Sexuality is the last place in humankind where a remnant of nature can still be found"

(Citation from the Catalogue)

In sexuality there are secrets, diseases, and violations. This is where the dangerous and incalculable reside, and this is where one might end up if one fails to comply with the nuclear family’s reproductive sexual life.

In art, symbolism breaks with the previous depiction of sexuality, and the erotic universe here goes through its most radical renewal and liberation since antiquity. All possible forms of lust can be depicted under the aegis of symbolism, and these artistic trends become very popular.

© Paulsen: Adam and Eve, 1887

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Updated: 26.apr.2018
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