His grand visions, realized in the gardens of about 170 of England’s stately rural houses, have been described as idealizations of the English countryside. They accentuated, (read “improved”) the undulating natural landscape; their asymmetrical compositions were enhanced with winding bands or clumps of trees and vast, rolling lawns, usually focused on a lake. At Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, often hailed as his magnum opus, he removed Henry Wise’s extensive parterre and brought the lawns right to the house, planting dark trees to frame the landscape beyond. He was later criticized for such wanton destruction of the works of earlier gardeners. A story underlines his enormous impact upon the English countryside: asked by an English lady to make a plan for her Irish estate, Brown is said to have replied, “No, madam, I can't, I haven't finished England yet.”

Humphry Repton, probably England’s greatest landscape theorist, was a minor landholder who had failed in business and at farming. In 1788 he took up landscape design when a family friend, the Duke of Portland, asked him to alter his garden. A key to his success was his skill as a watercolorist. He could produce attractive renderings of his schemes—an important factor in his profession because clients needed to visualize what might not be realized for years. Repton freely admitted his debt to Brown and continued many of his practices. Because of the Napoleonic Wars, his opportunities were limited. He produced landscapes, seldom as extensive as Brown’s, throughout England, among them many for terraces or smaller gardens close to houses. After about 1790 Repton created a transition between houses and their grounds by means of steps, terraces, and balustrades, through a “natural” park to a distant composed view. His ideals—utility, proportion, and unity—were best expressed at Woburn Abbey, where he augmented an existing landscape garden with a private garden, a flower garden, and what he called an “American garden.” In some senses, he began the transition from the informal landscape garden to the formality of the Victorian era. In 1795 he published Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening.

The esthetic mood in England was changing. From about 1770 Brown came under critical attack for, of all things, his “excessive formalism and lack of ‘naturalness.’” The romantic picturesque movement called for an exciting wild landscape—what was seen as a true return to nature. Nevertheless, those who could afford it had their architects (including Repton) build bogus ruins and enigmatic grottoes in the grounds of their houses; one eccentric even employed a hermit to live in his grotto. Debate about the classical English landscape garden versus the picturesque garden were exhausted by about 1830, and the “grand vision” dulled to be replaced by the Victorian garden with its rose beds, shrubberies, and rockeries. The acceptability of Brown and his followers—there were many—declined until the early twentieth century, and it was not until 1950 that he was finally recognized as the eighteenth century’s “most celebrated English landscape architect.”

Further reading

Clifford, Joan. 1999. Capability Brown: An Illustrated Life of Lancelot Brown, 1716–1783. Princes Risborough, UK: Shire Publications.

Daniels, Stephen. 1999. Humphry Repton: Landscape Gardening and the Geography of Georgian England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Laird, Mark. 1999. The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720–1800. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Athens, Greece

The Erechtheion, built on the site of ancient sanctuaries on the Athenian Acropolis, is so unlike every other Greek temple that some have dismissed it as an aberration. Rather, it is the result of its architect, probably Mnesikles, applying inventive skill to accommodate a complex web of religious relationships. The Erechtheion provides evidence that the craft tradition of architecture, hobbled by convention, was giving place to a new creative approach to design. That was a great step forward.

The city-states of Athens and Sparta and their respective allies fought the Peloponnesian Wars between 431 and 404 b.c., interrupted by the six-year Peace of Nikias, from 421. Although their popular strategos (elected general) Perikles had died in an epidemic in 429 b.c., the Athenians took occasion of