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Agrégation 2001 : Landscape and Hypermedia

Responsable : Mme Séverine Letalleur , chercheur au centre C.A.T.I.



The word landscape usually refers to the overall view or the various visible attributes of a given area of land ; still, the initial meaning of the word was first that of a picture representing an area of countryside, in which case, a prominent idea would be that of a frame delineating and thus giving boundaries to an already represented view i.e. a framed representation of the artist’s human perception of Nature. Furthermore, to landscape is to improve the aesthetic appearance of a piece of land so as to please the human eye by providing this very natural space with artistic qualities i.e. features worthy of being enhanced via painting, poetry or literature for instance. In other words, we have thus gradually moved  from a definition where our sole human perception was at stake, to a rendering of our perception via the artistic sensitivity of a painter, to the elaborate refinement of Nature in order to better suit aesthetes. 

The three definitions mentioned above find a full and direct illustration in what Stowe and Monticello refer to. Indeed, both toponyms allude to pieces of land with, quite obviously, visible geographical features. Moreover, both are also strictly delineated either by a ha-ha or a fence which literally frames the landscape, nature beyond being an extension of such frame (the gardens of Stowe are delineated by a two-mile long ha-ha i.e. a dry ditch skilfully made invisible for the human eye unless the wanderer is actually physically standing on the brink of such boundary, thus the onomatopoeia hinting at surprise ha-ha indeed, it was lined with a wall on the garden side so that neither ditch nor wall was usually visible [1] ). Besides, these two places have long been an endless source of inspiration for painters, writers or poets owing to the aesthetic qualities they displayed as masterpieces of landscape gardening. Finally, apart from being gardens, both places are also real estates, they include a mansion as well as the gardens and land all around, pieces of land that have been reshaped by the human hand, adorned, transformed, designed so as to enshrine the house within a natural scenery thoroughly altered for that purpose.

And yet, nowadays, both toponyms, if they do refer to these existing, physical places, may also, thanks to hypermedia, refer to another space, located elsewhere, at the core of a virtual network made up of electronic links ; a space of re-creation where a concentration or dense combination of media including pictures, photographs, blocks of text (or what Roland Barthes terms “lexia”)[2] but also musical sequences, films as well as virtual reality representations, enable the simultaneous stimulation of some of our senses while delivering information vital to the proper understanding of what is being perceived. And, even though former representations were already a window opened on the artist’s specific experience of a specific place, at a specific moment, such testimony was still but partially retrievable or understandable as the entire data concerning the inspiring object was hardly ever available altogether on a single support. Hence, the fixity of former supports while securing the preservation of an otherwise fleeting impression, also h??•??h???a????????indered their instant consultation and combination. In this respect, the rise of hypermedia embodies a dramatic change in the way we may now access not only knowledge but also aesthetic experiences.

Now if we turn back to Stowe and Monticello, what follows from the above is that we are left with two major spaces:

                                                                  -the actual estates of Stowe and Monticello, still greatly inaccessible from a geographical viewpoint, at least in terms of distance to travel in order to reach these grounds- quite a time-consuming journey for one living in Paris for instance !- but above all,  inaccessible temporally speaking, at least under some aspects, since both places are creations that belong to an irrevocable past, that of the eighteenth century.

                                                                  -Stowe and Monticello websites i.e. locations on an electronic network, accessible almost instantaneously for one having the Internet at his or her disposal ; and this, not only spatially speaking, since one can also have access thanks to these websites to pieces of information and actual representations of the very gardens under an aspect that no longer exists, that of the eighteenth century.

Hence, with the hypermedia, processes that seemed as inconceivable as instantaneous access to a remote place or, more astounding, time-travelling, become foreseeable experiences. In this respect, hypermedia offers an aperture on time and light-speed travelling, a device which could precisely abolish the two dimensions men have had to struggle with from the beginning : time and space.

Here, our main preoccupation will henceforth lie in the thorough analysis of a revolutionary mise en abyme- studying the electronic re-creation process of a specific place that is already a creation ; the question being, firstly, how the multi-faceted perspective thus promoted by hypermedia enhances former artistic representations, secondly, in which respect it fails to fully respond to the new hopes it has raised as far as technological advances are concerned and, thirdly, how other such perspective, being a new artistic means, may trigger the achievement of new masterpieces.


Hypermedia : a priceless contribution to landscape exploration.


When one thinks of hypermedia and websites, what is almost automatically conjured up by both notions are the ideas of browsing, escaping, travelling or surfing (cf. the computing terminology which includes words such as a browser, navigator, or portmanteau expressions such as netscape). All these notions clearly convey the idea of movement and more accurately, that of random motion, a pleasurable stroll in a maze where the main purpose is to literally get lost while hoping for unexpected encounters ; such ride being skilfully guided or orchestrated rather, by an invisible designer whose every efforts aim at making his or her presence surreptitious enough to make our journey as unpredictable as possible.

            At this point, it would be worthwhile underscoring the fact that this is exactly what Viscount Cobham’s and Earl Temple’s goals were when they designed Stowe. The idea of freedom stood at the core of their project and the visitor was to wander through the park, treading as many a path as possible, while his or her eye was being confronted with just as many perspectives. Such experience would free the stroller’s imagination while disclosing the complexity of his or her very own perceptions. In this respect, the serpentine line embodied the ideal shape as it described a curve followed by a counter-curve suggesting the undulating and therefore unhampered movement of the spectator’s eyes :


It is true that this shape aptly recalls the random meanders of a river where nature is at work: la diversité de la nature se manifestait, comme il est normal par la variété des points de vue, soulignée par des rivières et des lacs en lignes serpentines.[3]

As a matter of fact, in Stowe, both architects have attempted to imitate the works of Nature and this is particularly visible when one looks at the website’s synoptic map of the gardens :


This representation is an overall bird’s eye view of the park where most monuments are signalled by a black dot, a view in which one can easily behold a large expanse of water –in blue – dividing at one point and thus describing two curving branches that hint at the harmonious undulations of Nature’s creativity.

This idea of random stroll is buttressed in Stowe websites by the recurring presence of Boolean operators i.e. more conventionally, the coordinating conjunction or, a word acting as a forking path, cf. the Queen’s temple, providing us with an alternative which may literally change our walk :


Also, freedom is reinforced when one visits the website, in an entirely new kind of way as virtual visits enable the visitor to escape the usual constraint of three-dimensional space. Indeed, in our environment, if one wishes to go from point A to point B, one has to literally cover the distance in between in one way or another :  A-----------------------------B .

 Thus, if our visitor in Monticello wishes to explore the Tea Room, he or she will, according to the general laws that rule terrestrial motion, walk through the Entrance Hall and then through the Dining Room ; in other words, explore or at least have to go through all the different places separating him or her from the actual place, it cannot be otherwise. And yet a visitor wandering through Monticello’s websites needn’t follow such lengthy procedure, he or she can directly have access to the very bedroom without having taken a single glimpse at the previous rooms :


Needless to say that, in a similar way, if a visitor of Stowe website wishes to start exploring the park by having a look at the exit first, not only is it made possible but it also seems as though the website designer was strongly encouraging such practice !

In the world of media, linear and chronological links are therefore no longer valid or relevant even; simultaneity is enhanced as well as instantaneous access to the place sought, hence the drastic disruption of our spatial awareness.


Another idea dear to eighteenth century’s art of gardening is that of pleasant surprise. Here I refer you to the Saxon deities pages in the Stowe website :


One can easily draw a parallel between these gilded marmoreal figures suddenly catching the eye of our visitor, and marble-like apparitions emerging straight from a heathen past, which they are as the title clearly suggests : Saxon deities. In the website, their design, the fact that their shape is shrouded in a gilded frame and placed amidst a peaceful setting bathed in sunshine, sets off an overall feeling of nostalgia totally in keeping with the eighteenth century’s sentimental longing for their pagan ancestors.

If website browsing enables exploration by the possible undertakings of an infinite number of virtual random journeys as well as by the eventuality of happy discoveries, it also does so by re-creating a sense of movement in a three-dimensional space ; a movement which, up until now, remained quasi-impossible to suggest or experience virtually via a representation ; this due to the fact that such representations were mainly fixed as well as two-dimensional.

Of course, the cinema has provided us with moving images for over a century already, and yet, when watching a film, the spectator remains but a mere spectator and the movement is that of the object on the screen not his or her own. For, in both cases, fixed pictures –paintings or photographs– and films, interactivity is utterly, if not entirely absent. How could one enter a painting or a film and behold what hides behind this tree or in that grove ? Well, although hypermedia may remain a two-dimensional support, they do convey a sense of depth, precisely because they greatly rely on interactivity. Suffice it to say that without the user’s very own curiosity and will to further his or her investigation and thirst for knowledge, a website loses all justification. Interactivity gives rise to a new experience for the spectator who, while watching also acts and is no longer passive; the vertical links promoted by such revolutionary means are left to the user’s entire responsibility to explore. In this respect, the spectator becomes an actor in the film, he or she is the one moving towards the monument first – a concept dear to eighteenth century’s landscape designers and to which we shall come back later on.

And yet, if we experience movement when exploring a website, it is worthwhile adding that we also experience such movement in a three-dimensional space and this, in spite of the two-dimensional nature of the support. John TOLVA aptly sheds light on this seemingly strange phenomenon in an article entitled Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis : Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital World (http://www.cs.unc.edu/~barman/HT96/P43/pictura.htm),  where he explains how the act of moving from one flatland to another automatically triggers a sense of depth intrinsically linked to the fact that we perceive change on a same screen or surface as movement; just as if the screen did not exist and the images it displayed were actual sheets of paper in a three-dimensional world. And it is quite clear that, for the actual website user who, as any person living in a three-dimensional world, cannot conceive of going from one element to another without having the impression of moving in space, then, clicking on an icon to move from one page to the other, will systematically convey an impression of depth as though one was literally digging through a pile of documents.

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To illustrate this point, let us take a look at the Monticello website’s first page :


The user’s very own presence is here signalled by the outline of a hand poised as though about to tap a button[4] or an icon. One can successively click on The House then choose to click on Cabinet and from there to the revolving bookstand. Let us quickly analyse how we perceive such procedure :

From the front page we move to the following page (http://www.monticello.org/house/index.html) which already implies a choice ; here, the idea of movement as well as the sense of depth are suggested by a combination of means or media. First of all, the word House refers to an enclosed space one needs to enter, to explore ; besides, just underneath the actual caption, is a photograph of the mansion; set in an oblong case, it is taken from the side, in perspective, which means that the traditional way of rendering the sense of volume i.e. light alternately with shade is preserved; moreover, combined with the lexia standing as a brief introduction to the place, is displayed an architectural map of the house i.e. a technical drawing originally designed for professionals, which here enables us to actually visualise the way in which the rooms are organised within the main walls:


 Let us note that here again is a general view from above, quite an unnatural standpoint, impossible in fact, since the ceiling would have to be transparent for us to benefit from such a view !

Now if we decide to further our investigation of Jefferson’s house by visiting a room in particular, we can either click on the actual room, let us say the Cabinet, roughly represented on the draughtsman’s diagram  and numbered (n° 11), or click on its linguistic designation displayed on a paradigmatic axis on the right-hand side and underlined: Cabinet (11). Again here, a single aim can be achieved by following two or more different procedures, which is characteristic of hypermedia ; by thus multiplying the ways in which the user interacts with the machine, the designer promotes freedom and adapts to the user’s very own perception of things instead of imposing his or her own viewpoint :


The word Cabinet itself suggests a smaller space even and the mere successive mentioning of House and Cabinet cannot fail to convey the idea of a narrowing space closing in on us as we pace further ; still the dense combination of representations adds to what would have been but a transient impression otherwise; indeed, tightly interrelated with the lexia, is a colour painting of the room seen from above again but this time, in perspective and including characters in period costumes, attending their business ; such vision is like an instant shot retrieved from a long-forgotten past, as if the designer had wanted to re-create the general atmosphere of the place at the time Jefferson lived in the house.

Above this, a small black and white sketch of the mansion’s façade acts as a guideline reminding us that we are in the house section of the website. Lower down, amidst a list of useful data concerning the architectural features, one can also have access to two movies as well as a virtual reality tour: http://www.monticello.org/house/cabinet.html

Thus, once we are actually standing within the walls of the cabinet –a small, private room meant for quiet activities such as reading or writing– we can further examine the place and take a closer look at some of the unusual objects it may contain; let us take the revolving bookstand (http://monticello.org/house/vr/library/library.html) for instance, the originality of which lies in its ability to be put into motion thanks to a specific mechanism, a movement that would have been impossible to render without hypermedia ; indeed, up until recently, only films made the most accurate rendition of movement possible but, before the advent of hypermedia, one could not include a few seconds of demonstration on a video tape in relation to a book without first, interrupting the reader’s activity and thus disturbing the  regular stream of thoughts entailed by such activity. Discouraged from undertaking such lengthy procedure, the reader would be left with his imagination and a verbal depiction only, in order to figure out how this curious revolving bookstand actually operated. But here, by merely clicking on the part of lexia mentioning a revolving bookstand(QuickTime movie : Bookstand.mov,127K) the system is activated in a few seconds.

Nonetheless, it is here useful to make clear the fact that such embedded representation enhances depth not only because it stages a rotating movement in a three-dimensional space but because it is precisely designed in a Chinese box structure ; hypermedia being literally based on the principle of mise en abyme. They rely on our spatial awareness in order to fill the gaps they have created by default :


Here indeed, the gap between A and B is but an illusion and yet because we cannot conceive of absolute void, such gap has to be bridged and cannot be non-existing if it seems to have a physical presence on the screen. Thus, by merely mimicking our world, hypermedia representations urge us to fill the void they only suggest.

            Thence, gradually, all these features, skilfully combined, re-create the simultaneous stimulation of at least three of our senses : sight, auditory faculties and perhaps touch since the contact of our fingers with the mouse constantly secures the link with the machine and may give us the illusion that we are actually in contact with the documents and representations on the screen.

This being said, such experience definitely draws us closer to the way in which our perception works in real life. Indeed, the human perception is undoubtedly a multiple one where most of our senses are at stake simultaneously: Hypermedia takes us even closer to the complex interrelatedness of everyday consciousness; it extends hypertext by re-integrating our visual and auditory faculties into textual experience […] hypermedia seeks to approximate the way our waking minds always make a synthesis of information received from all five senses, integrating touch, taste and smell seems the inevitable consummation of the hypermedia concept.[5]

In other words, processing reality implies the handling of a constant overflow of information via a vast and complex immediate synthetic operation. And needless to add that if numerous pieces of information regularly and naturally reach us, there are moments when we also actively and intensely seek for information ; we therefore have to deal with what constantly comes to us without us asking for it, and what we are actually looking for and the absence of which stimulates our curiosity. In Stowe website, the designer has aimed at reproducing the way in which, in a park, buildings sometimes impress us as moving towards us just as the constant flow of information mentioned further up reaches us without us asking for it :


here we can either deliberately want to obtain more information by clicking on click on a bust to learn more , which would illustrate the outward movement of our conscious curiosity, or clicking on click here for more pictures and discover a series of thumbnails which if we click again clearly impress us as moving towards us and thus mirror the way in which information reaches us unawares. This little device thus aptly illustrates the essential notion of constant interplay between the spectator and the object under scrutiny: In an oblique approach, the interposed objects put the house seemingly in motion: it moves with the passenger, and appears to direct its course so as hospitably to intercept him.[6]

Here it may be worthwhile underscoring the fact that such phenomenon was both studied and promoted in the eighteenth century precisely in order to illustrate the way in which we constantly and simultaneously unwillingly receive and process external information, and this, even when we are actually focusing on something totally unrelated. Indeed, if one is concentrating on a path to take in order to reach this or that particular spot on a map, and all of sudden, as his or her gaze wanders around, it is caught unawares by a beautiful perspective disclosing an appreciable piece of architecture, then he or she cannot fail to acknowledge the mind’s incredible ability to synthesise and process things that bear nothing in common apart from the fact that they are now to be found at the core of our mental system. This is exactly how we end up drawing parallels between apparently unrelated notions, this is how the principle of analogies works.


Hypermedia, a priceless contribution to landscape gardening  interpretation.


            Now seems a suitable time to discuss whether hypermedia, apart from embodying the ideal virtual landscape exploration tool, can better convey one’s understanding of the artist’s ideas as well. For if we have put into light the exploration qualities of our support, we need also consider in which respect it may equally favour interpretation. Here, again, there is little left to doubt and it seems, quite obviously, that hypermedia does represent a privileged means of better grasping the ins and outs of artistic creation. Indeed, how can one fail to perceive the full significance of a work of art when, behind every statue or monument lies a lexia enlightening the visitor and guiding him or her through the deciphering process involved in any landscape study? Again here, the little hand poised as though to tap a button proves the best of friends!

Quite an eloquent example of the way in which hypermedia may actually re-create reality while aptly commenting upon what it displays, may be found in the Monticello website; more precisely, in the little film entitled automatic double-doors (doors.qt) and located at the very core of the Monticello Parlor webpage (http://www.monticello.org/images/media/doors.qt); indeed, in this movie in miniature, not only is the double-doors’ sophisticated mechanism being demonstrated but a double commentary can be heard, the duplicity of which seems to mirror that of the object commented upon; thus, a female guide is heard and seen in the actual place as she is addressing a group of visitors, while the voice-over of a man addressing us covers her own explanations with his: one of the most ingenious curiosities of all, is the double-doors between the entrance hall and the parlor. Such example truly proves the degree of elaborateness that can be attained by hypermedia in terms of interpretation!

If superimposition seems to be promoted as far as the Monticello website is concerned, we are confronted with a different technique equally enabling interpretation, in that of Stowe where scattered idiosyncratic views are given the advantage. There, we find that when the Menagerie is represented rather technically via a scale drawing showing the vertical projection of one side of the building (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/menagerie.html), the Chinese House is portrayed in a black and white sketch displaying a view of the building in perspective (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/british_worthies.html), while the Temple of British Worthies, in its turn, can be seen on a colour photograph (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/british_worthies.html). Thus, multiplying the different ways in which a monument can be reproduced, skilfully underscores the fact that all is a matter of interpretation as the fabric of our experience of reality proves to be infinite.

Here, there was an obvious will not to give an exhaustive list of the different representations that could be found concerning the place, but just an idea of the richness and multiplicity of the artistic creations Stowe had given birth to.

Therefore, one can undoubtedly assert that hypermedia does provide us with a truly encyclopaedic knowledge i.e. literally, an all-round education via the possible consultation of data in every field and all this of course, in an orderly compilation so as to secure enlightenment. Thanks to the miscellaneous lexia, we have access to historical and architectural information but also literary excerpts and visual representations through photographs, films, and three-dimensional representations.

            In other words, thanks to an electronic device that enables superimposition as well as comparisons, the eighteenth century garden literally becomes a compendium!

            And yet, apart from yielding new insights into the various evocations of a place, hyperdocuments are endowed with another priceless asset, that of enabling the retrieval of data from the past and thus, achieve in a few seconds what seems to have only been experienced by archaeologists up until now. For the palimpsestian structure of the website’s flatland fully echoes as well as it concentrates that of time. Here I refer you to a whole section in Stowe website entitled former buildings and temples in Garden Buildings and Temples, where one can find a whole list of monuments that unfortunately, have nowadays vanished (http://www.stoweschool.org/historic/gardens/garden.htm). Amongst those, is the Witch House, a curious building whose existence seems to have been rather brief, due perhaps to its wooden structure: http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/witch_house.html .

Numerous evocations as well as representations emerging from the past can also be found in the Monticello website, amidst which, let us only mention a webpage entitled Dig Deeper (http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/dayinlife/parlor/dig.html) where are depicted the first and the second Monticello.

Let us eventually add that our virtual tool boasts other such qualities as the possibility for the visitor, to know exactly what path his investigation and therefore his mind has followed when exploring the site; indeed, his random stroll can always be traced back thanks to the colour codes which act as some kind of Ariadne’s thread while signalling his every backward and forward movement– something impossible to achieve of course when being in the actual place, unless one was constantly followed by a camera. Again this greatly promotes the understanding of the way in which we perceive our environment as well as it sheds light on the way in which interpretation works.

Thus, interpretation and enlightenment, processes clearly supported by eighteenth century landscape designers, are enhanced via hypermedia supports because of the various alternatives they offer, the optical effects they display, but most of all, thanks to the elimination of all linear pattern; an absence which entails a multi-directional perspective causing the visitor to be surprised by the variety of the forms he or she is regularly confronted with, surprised and eventually enlightened thanks to the constant possibility to have access to pieces of information of all sorts by just clicking on the object questioned. The visitor’s curiosity is therefore constantly awakened while his or her thirst for knowledge is always assuaged.





            Nonetheless, it may now be worthwhile analysing why the revolutionary media could somehow reveal itself all the more disappointing as it has given rise to incredible new perspectives and hopes in terms of interpretation, exploration and depiction of artistic productions.

            For, even though the system appears to be wrapped up in magic for neophytes, one soon has to acknowledge the existence of a delusive trick; as a matter of fact, there is a limit to the clicking on icons and the opening of new windows leading to unknown virtual landscapes. Here I shan’t try to give an exhaustive list of all the minor incidents one can come across when exploring a website, but instead, I will mention a few of those hitches that could well break the spell we have been kept under initially.

            First of all, because the system very often proves to be instantaneous, the fact that sometimes one has to wait in order to download specific files for instance, yields way to utter impatience and annoyance; perhaps precisely as one is under the impression that the system has reached its very own limits when this seemed most inconceivable.

            Also, there are moments of course when the system crashes, especially when one wants to have access to the Internet or a specific website; it is true though that, all things considered, this is merely due to the stutters of a somewhat new technology!

            And yet, what may be regarded as all the more frustrating for the virtual reality landscape visitor, might be the very impossibility to move further, in which case this sign pops up: x. What one may call the vexed link; here I refer you to the Cabinet in Monticello website (http://www.monticello.org/house/cabinet.html), where you may only have a circular glance at the room but cannot, under any circumstances, actually get out of the very place and walk through the nearby corridor!

            We are confronted by an identical phenomenon in Stowe website’s VR movies (http://www.stoweschool.org/qtrv/northfront.mov) where one can only spin round and round and cannot pace away, the only thing still under control being the rotation speed ranging from extreme hastiness to utter tardiness.

            Another most unpleasant phenomenon is the absence of link, that is to say the absence of available information concerning a feature which is nonetheless mentioned. Here, we may take as an illustration the Gothic Cross located in Stowe website (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/gothic_temple.html). Even though two paragraphs are devoted to the no longer existing monument, no representation of it is put at our disposal and this, despite the fact that, apparently, only the bottom sides survive and the rest has yet to be rebuilt [7] , bottom sides that could therefore have been photographed!

            Needless to say that such absence of link surely bounds the total freedom that had been extolled elsewhere and hinders the sense of depth also mentioned earlier on. When such incidents take place, the visitor is thus literally thrown back into the harsh reality of his position– a puppet whose freedom is but an illusion as he ends up being entirely manipulated by the omnipresent though invisible hands of the website designer/creator.  

            Apart from those technical flaws quite understandable if hardly acceptable, one also has to acknowledge that nothing compares to a real stroll undertaken in a park. The most pleasant feeling of wandering in an open, beautifully arranged space, with the breeze lightly blowing and the sunshine alternately with shade under the bowing arches of tree branches, seems impossible to render.

And yet, when we are left sitting in front of a computer in the intimacy of an enclosed cabinet, far from any luxuriant park or sunny day, we still have at our disposal, our imagination and memories; two elements that are there to initiate such pleasurable natural atmosphere. Thus sometimes the mere vision of a small landscape, i.e. representation, can stimulate our imagination and in one single blow, give rise to the most striking emotion, as what proves really irreplaceable is but our imagination. In order to illustrate this point, one can take the example of St. Mary’s Church in Stowe website: http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/st_marys_church.html. Above two paragraphs giving a brief historical account of the place, is a small engraving representing the entrance of the medieval church half in the light of a sunny day, half in the shade of an imposing tree. I find such drawing all the more touching as it epitomises nostalgia while recalling Horace Walpole’s gothic fancies; the lancet arch of the front door reminds us that in the writer’s time such piece of architecture was said to have been inspired by the criss-crossing of branches in the deepest part of the forest, where Celtic druids would come and pray: le style gothique rapproche l’art de la nature , parce qu’il est imité des forêts. [8]

Such environment presumably inspired faith as it displayed a calm and quiet atmosphere in the mysterious shade of the forest where sounds are muffled, it was a place where an imperceptible breeze would silently loll the tree boughs thus evoking the invisible touch of God. Yet, on the little drawing mentioned before, both the stone forest and the real one have been represented, just as if nature with time, had taken over again and was now devouring what men from centuries before, had taken years to build.

            All the evidence suggests that in fact, what is therefore most difficult to render is perception itself, while even if our senses fail to be confronted with the natural elements that are liable to give rise to some kind of aesthetic experience, efficient substitutes, such as the apparently modest drawing just mentioned, will surely act as a perfect stimulus and aptly replace the real thing. Trying to reproduce our perception of the world proves most difficult and generally disappointing, this may be why Horace Walpole was never satisfied with Strawberry Hill and why Thomas Jefferson spent most of his adult life designing and redesigning Monticello, which was constructed over a period of forty years.[9] It is the gap between perception and representation which is insuperable no matter what the artistic support’s deficiencies prove to be.

            It is true that landscape gardening is one of the only artistic fields that includes a dimension which goes beyond its very own limits: there, a real spectator stands in real nature even if such landscape and the way in which it is adorned is in fact entirely artificial.



Hypermedia, a new artistic mode of representation.


            Let us now examine whether hypermedia could be considered no longer as a mere means but as an end in itself, as a new type of artistic production and re-creation, a new growth of the poet’s mind, in Wordsworth's terms. Indeed, very often, we believe that hypermedia is no more than an electronic tool, a mere extension of the user’s hand, when, in fact, it could well be a new artistic creation in itself. And this of course, according to eighteenth-century criteria and ideals of representation. For, in such century, any representation of Nature involved the complex interplay of perception and representation, the constant to and fro:



Nature ¨ Perception of nature

According to the empiricist tradition such simultaneous interplay then yields way to the re-presentation in a frame of both Nature and/or more accurately, the artist’s perception of Nature i.e. the combined workings of the artist’s senses and mind. Moreover, because landscape paintings were greatly inspired from the already existing artistic productions of landscape designers, they no longer were landscapes but mindscapes rather! A true concatenation of perceptions with their artistic counterparts.

Furthermore, just as the window ledges outline a landscape, the painting frame enables a more objective viewpoint inasmuch as the framing effect operates distanciation and has the spectator stand aloof from the thing itself as if staring at its object through a lens. In order to create such phenomenon eighteenth century artists actually used a wooden frame through which they would examine the natural scenery of their choice. Indeed, just as in a painting, the presence of a frame[10] would enable the artist to literally compose a landscape, the frame being essential to artistic composition. What was at stake was the re-shaping of Nature so as to create harmony by re-arranging reality, re-organising it; all this under the influence of the Palladian revolution i.e. an austere classicism inspired by the works of the XVIth century Italian, Andrea Palladio.[11]  in order to produce symmetry, restraint, proportionate dimensions as well as logical relations of the parts to the whole[12] thus conveying the impression of peace and harmony dear to Protestants: Palladio’s theories produced buildings in which individuality of expression was replaced by “pattern book” detail and in which regularity, repetition and almost dour simplicity became key elements […] thus breaking aesthetic dependence on Catholic France.[13]

And it is true that the Palladian Bridge, fully epitomises harmony via symmetry: http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/palladian_bridge.html; the architectural map next to the drawing in perspective, aptly shows the perfection of its dimensions. Same impression is given by the technical map of the Gothic Temple (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/gothic_cross.html), here it isn’t symmetry which is enhanced but sheer harmony with the perfect shape in the middle, a circle, surrounded by three identical wings also including circular rooms. Even the Grotto is thoroughly framed no matter how wild the vegetation all around seems to be; its entrance is thus presented as if it was an eye staring at us or at its own reflection in the water underneath (http://www.stowe.co.uk/history/gardens_park/grotto.html).

But, the idea of mediated vision via the skilful use of a frame which enables the artist to re-create and re-order his perception of the outside world is, of course, present with the computer screen where order and harmony are everywhere promoted; promoted thanks to the paradigmatic display of information, the colour codes chronologically sorting our path – purple for links already travelled, red for the fleeting moment of tactile interaction[14] and blue for paths left unexplored–, but also thanks to the paratactic display of representations evoking the association and superimposition of ideas dear to eighteenth century philosophers.

Indeed, such highly complex combination of signs, codes, figurative or symbolic representations cannot but recall the complex workings of the mind and imagination. And therefore, just as the poet or the painter chooses to represent and thus externalise his or her perception of landscape in some kind of artistic production, the website designer could become an artist whose productions are as entitled to the status of masterpieces as any other form of art. Such productions surely convey beauty.

Moreover, if the artist wishes to externalise his experience of natural beauty, it is to share it and thus trigger the same feeling in the spectator’s soul. And it is true that in websites, interactivity and interplay reach such a degree that the spectator just as in a garden, literally becomes part of the masterpiece.

Thus, the path he chooses to walk is surely unique and the artist website designer can better share his experience of freedom and perception. Paradoxically enough, one no longer needs to put a character in the painting, a little hand is enough to suggest an infinite number of perspectives.

Our imagination and that of the artist merge while the experience of beauty is truly enhanced. Once the workings of the mind have been triggered, our imagination is freed and in fact isn’t this what leads us to fancy? Freed imagination.






BURTON, Neil, & Dan CRUICKSHANK, Life in the Georgian City. London: Viking, 1990.

DELANY, Paul, & George P. LANDOW, Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1991.

HUNT, John Dixon, The Figure in the Landscape: Poetry, Painting and Gardening during the Eighteenth Century. London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

MARTINET, Marie-Madeleine, Art et Nature en Grande-Bretagne: de l’harmonie classique au pittoresque du premier romantisme, 17e-18e siècles. Paris : Aubier-Montaigne, 1980.





MONTICELLO : http://www.monticello.org    

STOWE : http://www.stowe.co.uk

TOLVA, John, Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis: Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital World: http://www.cs.unc.edu/~barman/HT96/P43/pictura.htm






[1] http://www.stoweschool.org/historic/gardens/index.html

[2] DELANY Paul, & George P. LANDOW, Hypermedia and Literary Studies, p.3.

[3] MARTINET, Marie-Madeleine, Art et Nature en Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle, p.13.

[4] TOLVA John, Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis: Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital Word Section I.

[5] DELANY Paul, & George P. LANDOW, Hypertext, Hypermedia and Literary Studies, p.17.

[6] KAMES, Henry Home, Lord –, Elements of Criticism. Edinburgh, 7th ed., 1788, ch. XXIV, quoted from MARTINET, Marie-Madeleine, Art et Nature en Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle, p.170.


[7] http://www.stoweschool.org/historic/gardens/gothicx.htm

[8] MARTINET, Marie-Madeleine, Art et Nature en Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle, p.38.

[9] http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/parlor/dig.html

[10] See the present website, section” Image analysis”, at the page on “Framing the View”.

[11] BURTON, Neil & Dan CRUICKSHANK, Life in the Georgian city, p.XIV.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] TOLVA, John, "Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis : Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital World" Section III.

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