The metaphysics of place in the scottish historical landscape: Patriotic and virgilian themes, c.1700 to the early nineteenth century

Margaret C.H. Stewart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In 1702, John Erskine, the 6th Earl of Mar (1675–1732), began remodelling his ancient estate at Alloa (figure 1). The plan he executed there is enormously significant for the history of landscape design and industrial development in Scotland. First, it is widely acknowledged as the most complete realization of a type of design first noticed by John Dunbar in 1970 in the garden plans of Sir William Bruce, and his draftsman and executant architect, Alexander Edward.1 At his house of Kinross (1679–93), Bruce had the main axial avenue intersect the house and terminate on the castle in Loch Leven that had once been the island prison of Queen Mary of Scots (figure 2). Bruce habitually focused avenues on ancient monuments and natural features; for instance, some years earlier at Balcaskie (1668–76), Fife, the main avenue was directed towards the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. It was uncertain, however, given the large number of striking natural and historic features in Scotland, if at Balkaskie, already begun before Bruce renovated it, he was simply taking advantage of the happy coincidence of the Bass Rock to make it a feature in his new design, or whether by doing this he had deliberately created a new visual-symbolic relationship between the history, native landscape and the existing house. The latter was clearly the case at his entirely new house of Kinross where the house was orientated to face the castle, thus creating a new visual-symbolic relationship. However, it was not until the Earl of Mar's Alloa scheme came under close study that the significance of this kind of design was realized; what Bruce had done in embryo at Kinross, Mar had developed into a coherent and complex system of symbols and forms that warranted the naming of this landscape movement, the Scottish Historical Landscape.2 A better title might be the metaphysical landscape as metaphysics played such an important role in Scottish intellectual life from the Renaissance to the Neoclassical period. In this tradition, metaphysics embraced Cartesianism, Newtonian physics, Renaissance humanism and philosophy3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-264
Number of pages25
JournalStudies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2002


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