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From Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry to British Romantic art
Author: Hélène Ibata

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

203 7 u ‘Sublime dreams’: ruin paintings and architectural fantasies From the beginning of the eighteenth century, ruins, vestiges of the past and architectural fragments became an essential feature of the British cultural imaginary and a recurrent topos in the arts. For more than a century, the fascination they exerted was fuelled by archaeological discoveries, direct encounters with classical sites by British visitors on the Grand Tour and then social and political upheavals which forcefully drew attention to the transience of all things. Such an interest

in The challenge of the sublime
Academic compromises
Hélène Ibata

109 4 u The sublime contained: academic compromises In 1776, the Irish painter James Barry painted an intriguing double portrait, in which he represented himself and his friend and compatriot Edmund Burke enacting a famous epic scene from Homer’s Odyssey: Portraits of Barry and Burke in the Characters of Ulysses and a Companion Fleeing from the Cave of Polyphemus (Figure 1 and Plate 1). Burke plays the part of Ulysses and is characterised as a figure of wisdom and leadership, with one hand pointing upwards in a gesture of warning. Next to him, Barry, leaning

in The challenge of the sublime
Hélène Ibata

85 3 u Reynolds, the great style and the Burkean sublime Given Burke’s doubts about the possibility of a pictorial sublime, his ideas spread with surprising success among the visual artists of his time. From the 1770s, his aesthetics of terror pervaded pictorial practices ranging from popular entertainment to academic exhibi­ tion paintings. While the growing taste for thrills easily accounts for the development of dramatic visual spectacles in the last two ­decades of the century, Burke’s influence on academic practices is more intriguing. Seeing that the

in The challenge of the sublime
Hélène Ibata

29 1 u The Philosophical Enquiry, theories of the sublime and the sister arts tradition In his authoritative bicentenary edition of Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, James T. Boulton wrote these introductory words: Without exaggerating the wisdom of the Enquiry, one must rank it among the most important documents of its century. Besides painters, architects and a host of minor writers, such major figures as Johnson, Blake (despite his overt scorn for Burke’s ideas), Wordsworth, Hardy, Diderot, Lessing, and

in The challenge of the sublime
Hélène Ibata

147 5 u Immersive spectatorship at the panorama and the aesthetics of the sublime While academic painting could accommodate the aesthetics of the Enquiry by conflating the great style with terrifying, supernatural or irrational subject matter, it did not initially respond to the call for formal innovation that was implicit in Burke’s criticism of painting. The confidence given by neoclassical precepts –​but also by the new status conferred on artists by the Royal Academy –​made it possible to overlook Burke’s argument that, as a literal and mimetic medium

in The challenge of the sublime
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Supernatural Masculinity in Gothic Fiction
Kathy Justice Gentile

Applying Butler‘s gender performance theory and critiquing authoritative philosophical discourse on the sublime, the essay examines the Gothic sublime as phantasmatic masculine drag. Focusing on Walpole‘s flamboyant flouting of Longinus‘s rhetorical prescriptions, the essay also explores how The Castle ofOtrantos fictional progeny continue to drag sublimity into Gothic drag king performances.

Gothic Studies
The modernity of Burke’s Enquiry
Hélène Ibata

consider the notion of artistic representation as problematic. Ashfield and De Bolla, for example, see Burke’s reflections on the superior affective abilities of language as ‘particularly interesting to contemporary discussions of the sublime in which the question of presentability takes center stage’.1 Many have also commented on his influence on Kant’s aesthetic theory, especially through his introduction of disjunction and tension in the aesthetic experience. Thus, Thomas Weiskel explains that ‘the role of anxiety in Kant’s “dynamical sublime” ’ is to be traced back

in The challenge of the sublime
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From sublime association to sublime energy
Hélène Ibata

267 9 u Turner: from sublime association to sublime energy Turner’s formal innovations have often been considered to anticipate impressionism, sometimes even abstraction, allowing them to be placed by some critics in the modernist tradition rather than the early nineteenth-​century context.1 They could just as meaningfully be understood as the culmination and synthesis of British pictorial responses to the representational issues raised by the eighteenth-​century debate on the sublime. Without mentioning the Philosophical Enquiry, Andrew Wilton sees Turner as

in The challenge of the sublime
Blake’s ‘sublime Labours’
Hélène Ibata

235 8 u Against and beyond Burke: Blake’s ‘sublime Labours’ As the previous chapters have shown, empiricist aesthetics provided a material basis for many of the visual experiments with unlimitation, indistinctness and obscurity which took place in British Romantic visual practices.1 Burke himself, in spite of his antipictorialism, had contributed an exhaustive survey of sensory sources of ‘delightful terror’, suggesting concrete ways in which the sublime could be visualised. More than anything, as appears in the pictorial and graphic experiments which have

in The challenge of the sublime