The prevailing artistic poetic in Emilia-Romagna, for any genre and throughout the centuries, has always had a naturalistic bent: a strong visual attraction towards the natural world led artists to depict landscapes from real life, often with bold textures. As a result, the collections of regional museums often reflect local geography: from the Apennines to the Po Plain, and from the cities to the sea.
In the Middle Ages, landscape paintings reflected a symbolic view of nature. They became increasingly realistic beginning with the Renaissance, in part thanks to the discovery of perspective. Various types of landscape paintings can be identified in Emilia-Romagna: perspective-based and realistic like in the works of Francesco Cossa, Ercole de Roberti, and Cesare Baglione; imaginary like in the works of Niccolò dell’Abate, Amico Aspertini, and Lelio Orsi; and idyllic and idealized as in the paintings of Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, Giorgione, Dosso Dossi, Correggio, Domenichino and the Carracci. The frescoes painted by Annibale Carracci at Palazzo Fava and Niccolò dell’Abate at Palazzo Poggi are now considered seminal works in establishing landscape painting as a genre, especially the ‘classic ideal’ of the 17th century.
In the 18th century, landscape painting reflected an Arcadian, pastoral aesthetic, with ruins playing a key role: in Emilia-Romagna, this ideal of perfect, measured beauty nevertheless retained a naturalistic dimension, as in the paintings of Donato Creti, Vincenzo Martinelli, and Francesco Fontanesi. By the end of the Age of Enlightenment, the prevailing view of nature gradually shifted from rational to sentimental. A new romantic era of landscape painting began, a visual expression of the artist’s spirit, as was the case for Rodolfo Fantuzzi, Giovanni Barbieri, and Antonio Basoli. The mid-19th century saw the emergence of an aesthetic centred on landscape paintings from real life, revolving around themes related to identity, geography, natural history, romanticism, and city life, by artists such as Antonio Fontanesi, Silvestro Lega, and Giulio Carmignani.
A more inward-looking, intellectual approach permeated landscape painting in the early 20th century, and reflected the subjectivity of their authors: landscape painting became a mental, emotional, or conceptual expression, as manifested through the various artistic poetics of the 20th and 21st centuries, from abstract art to the latest post-media trends.