The Letter The Performance  

leer Alps
leer Contemporary assessments of mountains, especially the Alps, give no impression of how they were perceived in bygone times, when James Howell, a diplomat travelling around 1622, referred to them as "terrible warts” and utterly useless. In his famous Diary, John Evelyn named the Alps a huge gravel pit, banished from the beautiful valleys of Lombardy by nature, and to Thomas Burnet they were the result of the deluge and a warning from God, as he stated in his "Tellurius Theoria Sacra” published 1681: As a punishment, he had used them to deface the surface of the earth. The mother of all atrociousness was, unto him, the Alps. The discomfort emanating from high mountains was subsequently on the increase and stayed solid with many authors into the middle of the18th century. In 1730, Joseph Spencer, a friend of Alexander Pope and James Thomson, wrote: "I would really love the Alps if there were no mountains there”. With averseness, travellers often mention exactly those views, which later on caused great enthusiasm, and even Johann Gottfried von Herder is said to have closed the curtains when traversing the Alps. In the 60s of the 18th century, enthusiasm for the Alps was on the rise among writers inspired by Gessner and Rousseau, and Ossianic authors. The urge to experience an overpowering nature, as had been formulated in Edmund Burkes Theory of the Elevated in 1757, is thus reflected by numerous landscape paintings from the period, which in the panorama of the Swiss Alps perceived an adequate motif for expressing such a sensation. Hence, unto the aesthete Johann Georg Sulzer, they were still wild and barren, yet they inspired him to ponder the Power of nature.

Dr. Annette Frese
Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg
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