This course is a comparative study of mountains as artistic inspiration, focusing on the Alps and the Black Forest in Europe and the Appalachians. We begin with Moses, the first mountain climber. We then turn to the first historical mountain climber: Oetzi, the 5,200 year-old man found frozen in the ice high in the Tyrolian Alps. We then turn to medieval Europe. There, passes through the Alps and the Black Forest were conduits for the transit of men, goods, and cultural forms. Mountains were not barriers but passageways that linked cultures. In 16th- and 17th-century Europe, Netherlandish artists--Breughel, Seghers, Ruisdael, Jos de Mompers--first gave full expression to the grandeur, far beyond a human scale, of Alpine scenery. Gradually, mountains came to be viewed as places of aesthetic beauty and as manifestation of the sublime.
Romanticism, in the visual arts, poetry, and music, captures the experience of the Alps as both symbol and physical manifestation of the transcendent. In the paintings of C. D. Friedrich, Constable, and Turner, mountains become the means to express the concept of the sublime. A deeper understanding of the sublime may be found in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. In America, too, mid-19th century painters focused on the mountains. We will study Hudson River School artists represented in Connecticut collections (Church, Cole).
The mid-19th century saw the birth of mountaineering as a sport. We will read selections from narratives of climbing expeditions--Leslie Stephen, Mark Twain. After World War I, mountaineering took on a heightened spiritual dimension for men who had survived the horrors of trench warfare. In Austria and Germany, climbing was identified with the cult of physical prowess and, sadly, with National Socialism and anti-Semitism. In fact, however, the development of climbing and skiing in the Alps owes much to Austrian and German Jews. In art, too, during the first decades of the 20th century, mountains were an important source of spiritual inspiration for painters whose work is central to the evolution of modern art.