How to View a Landscape Painting Critically


Decorative landscapes used simply to enhance portraits were popular in 15th-century Italian painting and 18th-century English and French figure painting. Landscape painting came into its own during the 16th century and evolved into a popular primary theme of the 19th-century Impressionists.


  1. Evaluate the purpose of the landscape: as background to a narrative, decoration, an aid to composition, a balance of structural and decorative functions, or the central theme.
  2. Try to discern the period and location of the painting by its style.
  3. Consider whether the landscape evokes a feeling or mood or is neutral.
  4. Look at how light is used to illuminate or darken the landscape.
  5. Read books on art history for a better understanding of the characteristics of particular periods and the influences of specific artists.

Descriptive landscapes, which served as background to a religious or mythological event, were dominant through the Renaissance.
Landscape was used by some painters to create a balanced composition: A horizon line might accentuate some vertical motion, while other natural forms might be used to create a frame around a subject embodying the mood of the landscape, but not defining that mood.