Ruins were originally of interest mainly to antiquarians, and the Antiquarian Society which formed in the early 18th century, employed a number of artists to record notable sites. Michael Angelo Rooker in particular specialised in views such as 'Part of the North Wall of St Joseph's Chapel, Glastonbury Abbey', and many of his works were reproduced as prints.

Ruins gained a new currency in the late 18th century as a subject for landscape painting through William Gilpin's 'Picturesque Tours', published from 1782. According to Gilpin, ruins were 'useful' in a landscape because their broken lines - enhanced by moss, ivy, a wall topped with twisting bushes - provided variety' through irregularity, which delighted the eye.