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Topographical Designs for British Illustrated Pocket Diaries, Changing Landscape, and the Nation

Sandro Jung, Ghent University , Summer Fellow 2013/14

My stay at Dumbarton Oaks has been extremely rewarding, intellectually and personally. I am grateful to the Department of Garden and Landscape Studies, the Library staff, and the other fellows for creating an enriching atmosphere of collegial exchange. As part of my project on “Topographical Designs for British Illustrated Pocket Diaries, Changing Landscape, and the Nation” I worked on the unique collection of material relating to the late eighteenth-century landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818), generating a narrative about his uses of largely unstudied topographical print media. Examining Repton’s topographical designs for William Peacock’s diary-cum-almanac The Polite Repository, I concentrated on a unique album of about 400 cut-out vignettes. My study of the vignettes from The Polite Repository facilitated insights into the ways in which Repton used this publication to popularise his ideas about landscape design. It also demonstrated that, in designing these vignettes, he promoted and distributed his work among a much larger audience than his exclusive Red Books (unique, specially commissioned illustrated volumes containing proposals for the improvement of the country seats of the elite). By the third week, the scope of my project had significantly widened: I considered vignettes from other illustrated diaries featuring topographical designs, and Repton’s role as populariser of the picturesque among the middle classes emerged as central to the success not merely of Peacock’s Polite Repository. Rather, Repton’s work was genre-defining in that, through the topographical vignette, he made available in visual form the changing landscapes of Britain to a greater number of consumers than ever before.

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