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In Search of the Ideal - Perspectives No. 350

In Search of the Ideal

Perspectives No. 350

The Effects of Good Government in the Countryside, 1338, Fresco, City Hall of Siena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti
The Effects of Good Government in the Countryside, 1338, Fresco, City Hall of Siena
Ambrogio Lorenzetti


   As I am writing this, our 350th! blog entry, I am struck by the three things which have been at the heart of our musings in these Perspectives articles over the last eight years. The first is our interest in sharing with you our experiences and any knowledge we have gained over the forty-five-plus years of each of our professional artist lives. Second, is our desire to become better writers and therefore master another art form, if possible. Third is a desire to share our ongoing search for the ideal—in life, in art, and everything else. But what does the ideal mean in our time? If it were an easy thing to define, it wouldn’t be fun to explore.

   The concept of the ideal is a recurring theme throughout art history. We can see the manifestation of it in painting, literature, architecture, fashion and music. Each new artistic movement seeks to redefine the ideal to suit the times, of course, but some concepts have stuck throughout the centuries. Recently, we were teaching a plein air watercolor workshop in a place which was, and still is, considered an “ideal” landscape—Tuscany, Italy. During a period of the Renaissance, roughly 1300 - 1500 AD, a school of art flourished called the Sienese School, named for the town of Siena where the artists were based. These artists believed that the Tuscan landscape was as close to a representation of heaven on earth as could be imagined, using it as a background in many of their paintings and portraits, but especially for religious themes. In using the landscape around them as a picture of heaven, they were deliberately staking out their neighborhood as the paradigm for what an advanced culture should consider as the "ne plus ultra" of an aesthetic landscape. At that time, Italy was a collection of city-states, each competing and even waging war with the others for domination, so there may also have been a political and economic aspect to their choice for background in their work.

   Today, as we look upon a much-changed and improved Tuscan landscape, we get it. The Tuscan culture still highly values the aesthetic in their landscape as much or sometimes more than they value the agricultural uses of it. Along with the good, fresh food and world-class wines, the landscape itself attracts large numbers of visitors each year. Eco-tourism is benefiting the area as never before. Our hotel was in the very heart of “calendar” Tuscany—the Val D’Orcia. We all quickly became intoxicated by the beauty all around us. It is a visual banquet wherever one looks. The challenge is in trying to decide what not to paint. If heaven is anything like that, I’m ready.

   In Pienza there is a plaque positioned on the outer wall that looks out high above the Val d'Orcia declaring the site to be a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape. It reads:

   “The Val d'Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was rewritten in pre-renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture celebrated by painters from the Sienese school. The Val d'Orcia has come to be seen as icon of the landscape which has profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking”. - Suzhou, China - Luglio 2004

Val d'Orcia Plaque




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.

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