What are the oldest landscape paintings?
August 2, 2005 4:04 PM   Subscribe

What are the oldest realistic landscape paintings (or drawings)?

I am looking specifically for realistic paintings or drawings of mountainous or glaciated landscapes. There's probably an Eastern tradition of landscape painting, but perhaps not of alpine areas. I am guessing that there is relatively little pre-Renaissance (or pre-Romantic, for that matter), but if there is, I'd like to know about it.
posted by bumpkin to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
I think the earliest will likely be Chinese ink paintings like this one (c.1000 CE). The earliest in the western tradition may be the Reformation era paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565 CE). Art was so closely tied to religion, and was so iconographic in Europe prior to this that there was no "market" as it were for landscapes. Jan van Eyck was able to incorporate some realistic landscapes into his religious works as early as 1430.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:52 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: In Western painting, it seems that you're right to assume that pre-Renaissance painting didn't much represent realistic mountainous landscapes. The oldest realistic (but not representing a real one) painting of a mountain is supposed to be in the background of The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Van Eyck (1435). The oldest actual alpine landscape painting is supposed to be The Miraculous drought of fish by Konrad Witz with the Mont Blanc valley in the background. Otherwise there's Durer putting the Brenner mountains in the background of this self-portrait (1498).
posted by elgilito at 5:59 PM on August 2, 2005

For paintings where landscape is the subject, Rock Steady's right: China. For paintings that feature realistic (I don't know exactly what you mean by this: naturalistically rendered, or believable?) mountainous landscapes, it's likely the Romans were the earliest - consider this piece, and the likelihood that they also painted Olympus. But I can't help you with an existing piece unfortunately.
posted by furiousthought at 7:33 PM on August 2, 2005

There's this, an unmistakable view of pre-eruption Vesuvius.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:47 AM on August 3, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, folks, its just as I thought. "Realistic" paintings of not-actual mountains isn't what I am after. I am looking for the oldest representations of a landscape that are good enough to compare to the modern landscape -- that is, to be able to identify specific changes in the landscape. Even the Romantics may not be very helpful in this regard... perhaps I will be limited to historical photographs and Victorian-era scientific sketches.
posted by bumpkin at 8:41 AM on August 3, 2005

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