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The Earth has a vast range of landscapes, including the icy landscapes of polar regions, mountainous landscapes, vast arid desert landscapes, islands and coastal landscapes, densely forested or wooded landscapes including past boreal forests and tropical rainforests, and agricultural landscapes of temperate and tropical regions.
The activity of modifying the visible features of an area of land is referred to as landscaping.
There are several definitions of what constitutes a landscape, depending on context. In common usage however, a landscape refers either to all the visible features of an area of land (usually rural), often considered in terms of aesthetic appeal, or to a pictorial representation of an area of countryside, specifically within the genre of landscape painting. When people deliberately improve the aesthetic appearance of a piece of land—by changing contours and vegetation, etc.—it is said to have been landscaped, though the result may not constitute a landscape according to some definitions.
The word landscape (landscipe or landscaef) arrived in England—and therefore into the English language—after the fifth century, following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons; these terms referred to a system of human-made spaces on the land. The term landscape emerged around the turn of the sixteenth century to denote a painting whose primary subject matter was natural scenery. Land (a word from Germanic origin) may be taken in its sense of something to which people belong (as in England being the land of the English). The suffix ‑scape is equivalent to the more common English suffix ‑ship. The roots of ‑ship are etymologically akin to Old English sceppan or scyppan, meaning to shape. The suffix ‑schaft is related to the verb schaffen, so that ‑ship and shape are also etymologically linked. The modern form of the word, with its connotations of scenery, appeared in the late sixteenth century when the term landschap was introduced by Dutch painters who used it to refer to paintings of inland natural or rural scenery. The word landscape, first recorded in 1598, was borrowed from a Dutch painters' term. The popular conception of the landscape that is reflected in dictionaries conveys both a particular and a general meaning, the particular referring to an area of the Earth's surface and the general being that which can be seen by an observer. An example of this second usage can be found as early as 1662 in the Book of Common Prayer:Could we but climb where Moses stood, And view the landscape over.(General Hymns, verse 536).
There are several words that are frequently associated with the word landscape:
- Scenery: The natural features of a landscape considered in terms of their appearance, esp. when picturesque: spectacular views of mountain scenery.
- Setting: In works of narrative (especially fictional), it includes the historical moment in time and geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story.
- Picturesque: The word literally means "in the manner of a picture; fit to be made into a picture", and used as early as 1703 (Oxford English Dictionary), and derived from an Italian term pittoresco, "in the manner of a painter". Gilpin’s Essay on Prints (1768) defined picturesque as "a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture" (p. xii).
- A view: "A sight or prospect of some landscape or extended scene; an extent or area covered by the eye from one point" (OED).
- Wilderness: An uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. See also Natural landscape.
- Cityscape (also townscape): The urban equivalent of a landscape. In the visual arts a cityscape (urban landscape) is an artistic representation, such as a painting, drawing, print or photograph, of the physical aspects of a city or urban area.
- Seascape: A photograph, painting, or other work of art which depicts the sea, in other words an example of marine art.