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20Historically Speaking · May/June 2004 The Visual Globalization of the British Empire John E. Crowley Empires, like nations, are imagined communities, not natural entities. In the second half of the 18th century British visual culture created a global landscapewhich facilitated imagining the empire. Before the 175Os people in Britain and the colonies showed little curiousity about how the colonies actuallylooked. From the 1750s onward a multitude of colonial scenes crucially reoriented British landscape art from the idealized to the topographic. Atopographic impulse in later 18th-century British landscape art aided the understanding of a rapidly enlarging world of British experience—ofthe British Isles themselves , ofnewand potential imperial domains, and of cosmopolitan travel more broadly. J. G. A. Pocock has long pleaded for a British historythatnot onlygoes beyond the British Isles—the "Atlantic archipelago" in Pocockspeak —but also considers how Britain itselfis a cultural construction whose physical domain has varied over time depending on its inhabitants' self-identities and political interactions. This view of British history, which bears so aptly on political culture, also applies to visual culture from 1750 to 1820. During that period British landscape art enabled a nascentviewing public to convince itself that it understood distant and/or previously unfamiliar lands. This visual identification aided the conceptualization ofa rapidlyexpanding colonialworld and legitimized questionable imperial projects: the assimilation ofCanada's French-Catholic population, peacekeeping between First Nations and European settlers in the trans-Appalachian West, regulation of an indirect empire in Mughal India, protection ofslave societies in the West Indies, and the penal transportation of free-born Britons to New South Wales. For most of the early modern period landscape art had low prestige in European culture. Artists measured their professional status bycommissions for historical and portraitpaintings . The mostfrequentexceptions, as in so many things in aristocratic Europe, were in the 17th-centuryNetherlands, where landscape art was one among many genres commissioned by merchants. The other exceptions were in 17th-centuryItaly. Claude Lorraine, SalvatorRosa, and Gaspard Poussin painted idealized landscapes as settings for Roman historical and mythological scenes. cities were exceptions proving the rule that commerce, not territorial empire, mattered (fig. 1). Theywere accurate on generic architectural landmarks, butimaginative aboutthe hinterland. Figure I . Samuel Copen,A Prospect ofBridgeTown in Barbadoes (London, 1 695). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. Theirworks created the picturesque ideal for landscape paintingin the firsthalfofthe 18th century. Topographic pictures ofthe British landscape—ones that recognizably represented a specific geographic scene—were largelylimited to "prospects" ofpublic buildings , towns, and noble estates. If British artists seldom represented the scenery and peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales topographically before the middle ofthe 18th century, theyhad even less reason to do so for the colonies. Prior to the Seven Years' War British public discourse referred infrequently to colonies overseas as part ofan "empire" in the sense ofa coherent set ofterritories governed from Great Britain. Coastal settlements ofBritish subjects—commercial "plantations" and "colonies"—composed most of Britain's fixed interests overseas . Correspondingly, British artists lacked interest in representing how colonies in North America, the West Indies, or India actually looked. Panoramic views of port As Hugh Honour has lavishly shown in TheNew Golden Landand TheEuropean Vision ofAmerica, Europeans had a rich visual imagery oftheAmericas, butits authority did not depend on authenticity. Topographic scenes ofAmerican landscapes observed firsthand by artists such asJohnWhite in North Carolina in 1585 and Frans Post and Albert Eckhout in Brazil in the 1630s and 1640s were very much exceptions to most early modernvisual representations ofworlds overseas , which drew effortlessly on imagination, allegory, and literary texts for their imagery (fig. 2). The colonists themselves exerted no pressure for topographic representations: they had their portraits painted against stylized backgrounds ofEuropean landscapes. But in the 175Os British artists began to develop a globallandscape thatvisuallylinked colonial territorieswith metropolitan Britain. In the second halfofthe 18th century landscape artincreasinglyintegrated the Britainof the United Kingdom with the Britain ofthe May/June 2004 · Historically Speaking2 1 Figure 2. Gottfried Bernhard Goëtz,America (Augsburg, c. 1 750). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. empire in North America, the Caribbean, India, Australia, exploratory ventures in the Pacific, and strategic bases such as the Cape Colony. The formation...


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