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Parceling the Picturesque: "Rural" Cemeteries and Urban Context

  • Author(s): Wunsch, Aaron Vickers
  • Advisor(s): Crawford, Margaret
  • et al.
Abstract

Moving beyond traditional studies of the picturesque as a European-born artistic phenomenon, this dissertation connects the naturalistic treatment of landscape to a particular city's cultural and economic transformation in the early industrial age. Three narrative strands unite the project. The first traces the arrival of garden-like graveyards on Philadelphia's periphery. Known after 1830 as "rural" cemeteries, these places were incubators for new conceptions of home, community, and outdoor aesthetic propriety. Closely related to this geographical shift was a vocational one. Beginning in the antebellum decades, several occupations involved in the division and depiction of land recast their services in new terms. Although Philadelphia's landscape architecture profession eventually emerged from this ferment, my focus is on the period just prior to coalescence - a period when surveyors, horticulturists, and "rural architects" competed for legitimacy (and commissions) in a field without clear-cut boundaries.

Embedded in these stories is a third, involving the city as built and imagined. In the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia was America's grid city par excellence. As such, it exemplified a uniform and "neutral" approach to land division - one initially lauded as compatible with the aims of a republican society but increasingly derided as a speculator's instrument of convenience. Coded "rural" by its proponents, the picturesque curve seemed to offer an alternative. Its pedigree was aristocratic but its meaning grew less stabile with the dawn of mass culture. A metropolitan picturesque had emerged by mid century. With it came new ways of thinking about art, commerce, and urban community.

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