6 The enlightenment on art, genius and the sublime

Enlightenment ideas on art and also the creative process were deeply affected by the contemporary veneration because that reason, empiricism and the classics. The organization of the artist to be conceived of as the imitation of nature, and also as far as high arts was concerned, this process of imitation have to be educated by one intelligent grasp of the processes supplied to produce classical art. The ancients and also their art were viewed as models in the judicious selection of the most beautiful facets observed in nature, producing forms of ideal or ‘beautiful’ nature that were obtained from a distillation that the really best and a filtering out of physics flaws. The leading art doubter Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–68) held up Greek statuary because that imitation together the embodiment of perfection.transfer come the eighteenth century via a robust Renaissance creative tradition based upon the antique, enlightenment Neoclassicism in its broadest sense attempted no only straight borrowings from the antique (the imitation of architecture motifs, the use of timeless drapes to clothe figures, idealised treatment of the human figure based on antique sculpture, reference to sculptural poses), but likewise an emulation of the order, unity, proportion and also harmony felt come underpin all timeless art. The ethics of timeless composition were based upon the id of a clear emphasis on a central motif (a hero, martyr or saint); grand, unifying (as opposed to sparkling, dappled or disjointed) effects of light and shade the wouldn"t distract the eye to the hinderance of mental emphasis on an elevating subject; noble simplicity, balance and also symmetry (see number 7). You will discover in the art of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) the expression of a specifically pure type of timeless composition.

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figure 7 Nicolas Poussin, The Holy family members in Egypt, 1655–7, 105 x 145.5 cm, The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.The ethics of classical composition demonstrated in this paint – balance, symmetry, broad, unified light effects and also a prominent, ordered positioning the the key figures-influenced generations that eighteenth-century painters. Poussin was greatly influenced by antique friezes and also statuary

As the century progressed, the threats of servile imitation, or a formulaic method to art, were significantly recognised together the claims for an ext ‘natural’ arts were asserted. A significant body of opinion developed that was vital of artist who merely imitated the arts of the past in a method that degenerated right into artifice and mannerism. In the 1760s Diderot, who additionally wrote together an arts critic, was among those who insisted the artists have to pay much more respect come nature. Study of idealised antique statuary and also the values of anatomy and proportion that had actually informed it remained crucial to artists, however it to be stressed progressively that respect because that these have to not exclude or diminish first-hand monitoring of the person body. Life drawing classes at the academies the art permitted male artist to research the nude, yet the human models were usually posed in highly fabricated ways that adhered to the conventions of antique sculpture; your poses and also the positions of your limbs were solved in the drawing studio by a facility arrangement the ropes, pulleys and also blocks (see figure 8). Theorists dubbed increasingly for less man-made poses and also methods that observation.


This farming quest for the ‘natural’ prolonged to transforming views top top the status of different genres or subjects in art. When high art, inspired by timeless or religious subjects, preserved its place at the optimal of the hierarchies perpetuated by the academies that Europe, there was a cultivation appreciation that the lower genres that landscape, still life and scenes of everyday life, i m sorry required an ext direct observation of a more natural reality. In see art, together you will see, the idealised classic landscapes that the seventeenth-century French artist Claude Lorrain (1600–82) remained incredibly influential. Yet there was likewise an increasing tendency to place an ext emphasis on straight observed sketches of the landscape that, while still beautifying nature, permitted for imitation of a greater variety of organic effects. Knowledge artists and critics were emboldened to need greater naturalism or realism in art, in both style and also subject matter, as a result of the popular of Dutch and also Flemish paintings, i beg your pardon had produced a northern tradition progressively seen together a real alternate to the classical. In England william Gilpin and other artists and also writers interested in what they dubbed the ‘picturesque’ promoted travel as a method of viewing genuine landscapes and directly it was observed sketches as component of the procedure of producing views ‘fit because that a picture’. The search for higher naturalism was seen in France as an antidote come the beforehand eighteenth-century excesses of the Rococo, a specific adaptation or ‘debasement’ that the grand classic style qualified by serpentine curves and also asymmetric forms applied mainly come portraiture and also to erotic and playful mythological subjects (see figure 9). In the second fifty percent of the eighteenth century, a greater respect for nature was viewed as a moral solution to the luxury and also corruption that the Rococo"s aristocratic patrons.


number 9 François Boucher, The Triumph of Venus, 1740, oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm, national Museum of well Arts, Stockholm. Photo: nationwide Museum of good Arts.Boucher"s frivolous and also erotic Rococo style and treatment of mythological topics exerted a big influence ~ above mid-eighteenth-century taste. Connected with aristocratic decadence, they resulted in calls later in the century for art that to be both more natural and more moral

Given the focus on imitation, the is maybe unsurprising the the Enlightenment principle of the creativity was essentially that of producing brand-new variations top top old themes. The imagination was organized to integrate impressions observed in nature and also previous art, yet was usually not understood or required to encompass any great flights that fancy. The pleasure of arts lay in the acknowledgment of the acquainted reprocessed in ways adapted to modern-day times. If the Encyclopédie short article on ‘Genius’, written by Jean Francois de Saint-Lambert, characterized genius together consisting of extraordinary powers of mind, intuition and inspiration transcending mere intelligence, most enlightenment commentators top top aesthetic matters observed such attributes as ideal to a details stage of the artistic procedure (the initial moment of inspiration, the preliminary sketch) quite than as characteristics that should overcome or overwhelm. Genius was a high quality of mind to it is in welcomed, however the an innovative process must likewise involve reflection, study and observation.

Indeed, numerous Enlightenment thinkers mutual the conviction that good art to be largely, though not exclusively, the product of compliance v well-established rules obtained from the classics and empirical reason. As Voltaire it was observed in 1753, ‘I worth poetry only insofar as it is the ornament of reason’ (quoted in Furst, 1969, p. 19). Voltaire"s aesthetics, prefer those of many French writers of the eighteenth century, were based upon the neoclassical canons of literary works laid down in the power of luigi XIV by such movie critics as Nicolas Boileau in his art of city (1674). Therefore while Voltaire to be a pioneer in presenting Shakespeare to the europe public, that did so with profound reservations and, together it were, hold his nose, arguing that Shakespeare"s plays consisted of ‘gold nuggets in a dung-heap’. He presented Shakespeare together a distinct genius who succeeded in spite of such lamentable violate of the neoclassical rules together mixing comic and tragic elements in the exact same play. Voltaire was in an excellent company in defending the welcomed literary canons and explaining ‘genius’ together the exemption that proved the rule. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), chairman of the royal Academy in London, embraced the very same view in relationship to art:

Could we teach taste or genius by rules, they would certainly no much longer be taste and also genius. But though over there neither are, nor can be, any specific invariable rules because that the exercise, or the acquisition, the these great qualities, however we might truly say the they always operate in proportion come our fist in observing the functions of nature, to our skill in selecting, and to our care in digesting, methodising, and comparing our observations. There are countless beauties in our art, the seem, in ~ first, come lie without the reach of precept, and also yet may easily be reduced to handy principles.

(Reynolds, 1975, p. 44)

The artist, in various other words, need to not permit his imagination run away through him. Hume, too, warned the this danger:

The creativity of man is normally sublime, delighted with every little thing is remote and extraordinary, and also running without manage into the most far-off parts of room and time in stimulate to protect against the objects i m sorry custom has rendered too acquainted to it.

(Quoted in Hampson, 1968, p. 158)

The depths irony because that today"s leader is that it was exactly this unconstrained escapism into long earlier and far away, the ‘remote and extraordinary’, the was to captivate and also characterise the Romantics.

Summary point: Enlightenment principles on art and also the artist were overcame by reason, moderation, classicism and control. However, there was recognition of the elusive top quality of original ‘genius’.

If most aesthetic concepts of the enlightenment emphasised reason and experience, and classified ‘genius’ together something exterior the rules, there to be one further principle mentioned by Hume, ‘the sublime’, that seemed to strain knowledge rationality come its limits. Theorised by Edmund Burke in his thoughtful Enquiry, a sublime aesthetic endure was one that influenced awe and also terror in the spectator or reader. The sublime to be something literally overwhelming, either due to the fact that of that enormity (a high mountain, a deep chasm, a blinding light), its infinity (the spiritual or timeless) or that is obscurity (a cloud-capped mountain, a floating mist, night, intense darkness) – all, significantly, the opposite of the precise, measured, penetrating ‘light’ of the Enlightenment. When faced with the sublime, the viewer, listener or leader felt a type of paralysis that the will and also of the powers of understanding and also imagination. In ~ the exact same time, as an aesthetic experience (grounded in art rather than reality) the sublime permitted for the thrill of risk without its real consequences. Immensely popular in this context throughout Europe were the ‘works’ the Ossian, ostensibly a poetic bicycle by a Gaelic bard that the 3rd century CE, however in reality the development of James MacPherson (1736–96), who released his prose ‘translations’ in 1760. Napoleon was among the many devotees that Ossian, as much relocated by the tales of legendary heroes in a wild, rugged and also primitive northern setup as through Homer"s more familiar Greeks and Trojans. This type of exalted endure was progressively sought in art and by the late enlightenment was a dominant aesthetic mode:

It is night. I am alone, forlorn on the hill the storms. The wind is heard in the mountain. The torrent pours down the rock. No hut receive me native the rain, hope on the hill that winds. Climb o moon from behind the clouds. Stars the the night, arise!

(MacPherson, Colma"s lament native Ossian, quoted in Barzun, 2000, p. 409)

In Mozart"s Don Giovanni the sublime increase in the infernal pressures that swallow the main character in ~ the end of the opera, and perhaps in the sublime ship of the man who defies them. The picture of Prometheus, the demi-god punished for his defiance the the king the the gods, began to haunt the poetic creativity when Goethe (1749–1832) committed to that a dramatic fragment and also ode (1773). For the thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it was the possession that a non-material heart that enabled people to seize the infinity the the sublime. This sensation of phenomena straining or exceeding the limits of human being understanding was later to kind the basis of a fully-fledged Romantic aesthetic.

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Summary point: in the enlightenment the theorisation and popularisation of the sublime started to threaten the eighteenth century"s otherwise clear focus on the knowable, the rational and also controllable.