17 April 2014


"The panorama is paradoxical: topographically "complete" while still signalling an acknowledgment of and desire for a greater extension beyond the frame. The panoramic tableau, however bounded by the limits of a city profile or the enclosure of a harbor, is always potentially unstable: "If this much, why not more?" The psychology of panorama is overtly sated and covertly greedy, and thus caught up in the fragile complacency of disavowal. The tension is especially is especially apparent in maritime panoramas, for the sea always exceeds the limits of the frame. 
It is in early seventeenth-century Dutch legal theory that the sea is emphatically understood to exceed and even resist terrestrial boundaries and national proprietary claims. Writing in defense of the interests of the Dutch East India Company against Portuguese claims to exclusive trading rights in the southwest Pacific, Hugo Grotius spoke, perhaps somewhat cynically, of
... the OCEAN, that expance of water which antiquity describes as the immense, the infinite, bounded only by the heaves, parent of all things. ... the ocean which... can neither be seized nor enclosed: nay, which rather possesses the earth than is possessed.
Thus the sea's infinitude gives rise to a doctrine of free trade well before it provides a basis for eighteenth-century aesthetic notions of the sublime. Panoramic maritime space in Dutch painting is implicitly "open" in this pre-romantic sense: open to trade, a net cast outward upon world that yields property but that in its idealized totality is irreducible to property. When proto-romanticism is later confronted with this uncommodifiable excess, it transforms it into the sublime, taking it initially as proof of divinity; only later is the category naturalized and psychologized (...)" 

—Allan Sekula

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