In search of the picturesque—the architectural ruin in art
At the outset of her remarkable Pleasure of Ruins, the author Rose Macaulay observes that ‘down the ages men have meditated before ruins, rhapsodized before them, mourned pleasurably over their ruination … [and how] … it is interesting to speculate on the various strands in this complex enjoyment’. Macaulay effectively sums up the attraction ruined buildings have long held as pictorial subjects for artists in Europe and Britain without question but also, to a lesser degree, in Australia as well.
The works in this exhibition belong in two broad categories: European works of the late sixteenth to late nineteenth centuries, that chiefly respond to architectural ruins from the ancient world and the Middle Ages, many on a grand scale; and Australian works whose subjects are generally much more modest in kind as is the extent of this aspect of the exhibition.
For many of the artists represented in the exhibition, the European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a crucial prelude. It was a period when the excavation of antiquities, a renewed interest in Greek and Roman architecture and sculpture, and the publication of new scholarly editions of Greek and Latin texts, were part of a simultaneous movement.