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From Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry to British Romantic art

The challenge of the sublime argues that the unprecedented visual inventiveness of the Romantic period in Britain could be seen as a response to theories of the sublime, more specifically to Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). While it is widely accepted that the Enquiry contributed to shaping the thematics of terror that became fashionable in British art from the 1770s, this book contends that its influence was of even greater consequence, paradoxically because of Burke’s conviction that the visual arts were incapable of conveying the sublime. His argument that the sublime was beyond the reach of painting, because of the mimetic nature of visual representation, directly or indirectly incited visual artists to explore not just new themes, but also new compositional strategies and even new or undeveloped pictorial and graphic media, such as the panorama, book illustrations and capricci. More significantly, it began to call into question mimetic representational models, causing artists to reflect about the presentation of the unpresentable and the inadequacy of their endeavours, and thus drawing attention to the process of artistic production itself, rather than the finished artwork. By revisiting the links between eighteenth-century aesthetic theory and visual practices, The challenge of the sublime establishes new interdisciplinary connections which address researchers in the fields of art history, cultural studies and aesthetics.

Ruin paintings and architectural fantasies
Hélène Ibata

imagination’; ‘the moral response’, which sees the ruin as a memento mori, a reminder of the vanity of all human achievements; the ‘political’ one, for which ruins connote ‘Nature’s levelling of haughty tyranny’; the ‘aesthetic’ one, which focuses on ‘the decorative nature of the ruin’; and the ‘sentimental’ one, which is ‘that indulgence of melancholy and horror associated with Graveyard poetry and Sublime aesthetics’.1 The last two responses could be said to correspond respectively to the aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime. The growing association with terror

in The challenge of the sublime