contextual study: landscape and power relations

areading through what the geographer Gillian Rose has to say about landscape and gender in ‘Feminism & Gender, the Limits of Geographical Knowledge (1993). in her chapter ‘Looking at Landscape: The Uneasy Pleasures of Power‘ (p. 86 – 112) Rose discusses how the term landscape and landscape paintings are embedded with cultural values which indicate power relations of society of both class and gender.

the term landscape: Rose outlines how landscape is central to the study of geography because it unites nature and culture. landscape as part of ‘cultural geography’ indicates power relations within a culture and between society and its environment. the term ‘landscape’ implies a way of looking; a gaze on the relationship between society and land (p. 87).

landscape and gender: Rose discusses how, throughout the history of geography and the study of landscape, nature has been feminised; landscape has been discussed in terms of the beauty of nature and described like the pleasure of gazing upon the female body (p. 87). the use of language to describe landscape has also been feminised; e.g. mother-earth. landscape has also been presented as something to look upon, usually by a male gaze upon a female body and adheres to the trope where ‘women appear and men act’. the study of landscape therefore combines a geographer’s search for empirical knowledge and the search for pleasure, usually along binary divides of mind/body, body/culture.

landscape and visual representation: landscape is a representation or framing of the natural world and a structuring of its related symbols. this frame or representation draws on cultural codes of society. codes are embedded in social power structures; power, ownership, control (p. 89 – 90). visual representation of landscape indicates these relationships as seen through map making and paintings of landscape.

landscape paintings and viewpoint: viewpoint is of particular interest to my exploratory project. citing the work of Cosgrove (p.90), Rose discusses how Alberti’s use of perspective and a fixed viewpoint shows power relations; a male individual looking upon the landscape from the landowners position and controlling the spectators gaze – a way of seeing bound into class relations (p.91). gender relations are also at play in representing a landscape. in Gainsborough’s landscape painting of a landowning couple (Mr and Mrs Andrew’s, 1750) the man is standing and ready to move and the female is sitting, immobile and passive in the landscape.


Mr and Mrs Andrews, 1750, Thomas Gainsborough.  (

landscape paintings and women: looking at feminist interpretations of paintings of 19th century,  landscapes were by an large painted for a new bourgeoise audience and reinforced their values; woman aligned to nature and woman as body as opposed to mind and culture (p. 94). women represented nature, land and landscapes and were seen as objects of desire to be explored (the era of colony and empire). female figures in the landscape were seen as pure and harmonious, an ideal as opposed to the real of urban culture (p.95). citing feminist art critic Linda Nochlin, peasant women signified nature and the cycles of fertility and maternity, as seen in Courbet’s The Grain Sifters (p. 95). Nochlin also discusses how allegorical female figures (nymphs, dryads) were presented as nudes in landscapes; wooded, natural. these nudes were accepted by Victorian sensibilities because they were allegorical figures rather than real. female nudes were also often painted asleep in the landscape, unaware of the spectators (male) gaze, vulnerable (p. 96). reinforcing their vulnerability, these females were also painted in passive poses; lying and still, their gaze not direct but allowing the spectator to gaze upon her. a sign of submission and ownership and linked to male sexual desire and pleasure (Berger in Rose, p. 97).


The Grain Sifters, 1854, Gustave Courbet.

challenging the dominant masculine gaze of landscape: in short, Rose concludes by discussing some challenges to the dominant male gaze of the landscape, where woman/mother is not seen as an object of desire, where the gaze of artist is equal to that which it looks upon, where the grand and distanced view suggesting control and power over changes in scale and gaze’s position.

reference: Rose, G. (1993). Feminism and Geography, The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Cambridge: Polity Press.


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