Everyone loves a beautiful sunset or a view of the countryside with mountains and rivers, don’t they?
No. And for most of man’s time on this earth, through countless generations, he never even gave them a second look.
“The Italians,” says Jakob Burckhardt in his The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, are the first among modern peoples by whom the outward world was seen and felt as something beautiful. The power to do so is always the result of a long and complicated development…”
Burckhardt then gives the ancient world, starting with Homer, as an example of one of the rare periods in history. The next one, he says, was the Italian Renaissance.
Detail of The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci
“By the year 1200, at the height of the Middle Ages, a genuine, hearty enjoyment of the external world was again in existence, and found lively expression in the minstrelsy of different nations, which gives evidence of the sympathy felt with all the simple phenomena of nature—spring with its flowers, the green fields, and the woods. But these pictures are [as yet] all foreground without perspective. The epic poetry, which describes armor and customs so fully, does not attempt more than a sketch of outward nature……From these poems it would never be guessed that their noble authors in all countries inhabited or visited lofty castles commanding distant prospects.”
Landscape by Leonardo da Vinci (Uffizi, Florence, Italy)
Burckhardt even goes so far as to claim that Dante, the poet of The Divine Comedy, was the first man since the days of antiquity “to make the ascent of lofty peaks, with the only possible object of enjoying the view”.
See What is Beauty?