In Search of Arcadia

In several recent posts we have considered the concept of “Arcadia” and its contribution to Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and vice versa. BBC Four earlier this week transmitted a documentary entitled “In Search of Arcadia” presented by Dr Janina Ramirez and John Bailey. It considered a 12 mile stretch of the Thames from Hampton Court to Chiswick House and explained how landscape gardening developed there and how this was intended to incorporate the more natural and wilder Arcadian concept into the English garden that was previously more formal in construct. Dr Ramirez begins with a look at the 1638 painting of Nicholas Poussin usually referred to as “Et in Arcadia Ego” after the inscription on the tomb depicted. She shows the painting on her iPad rather than in its museum setting, so one assumes she is looking at the one in the Louvre and not its predecessor at Chatsworth House which would be of an earlier date.  See previous post.

Most of the program is taken up by consideration of the gardens and houses at Hampton Court, Twickenham, Marble Hill, Chiswick House and Syon House. These are used to illustrate the progression from Baroque formality at Hampton Court’s gardens to Arcadian naturalism of those at Syon House. Most of the literary discussion relates to Isaak Walton who wrote The Complete Angler and Alexander Pope who built a house and garden at Twickenham. All that remains of that is an underground grotto he built to connect the house with the garden. Pope is considered more as a gardener than a a poet. Waugh’s citation of the inscription from Poussin’s painting doesn’t get a mention nor does Brideshead Castle as an Arcadian concept, but one can’t have everything. To be fair, Waugh was more interested in describing the architecture of the house than the design of the garden.

The program can be viewed on the internet on BBC iPlayer for about the next four weeks. A UK internet connection is required.

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