Romanticism and The Sublime

I thought thats a brilliant introduction to romanticism (german romanticism anyway) but beautiful nonetheless. Making something simple like a gravestone of Anakreon , a Greek poet most notable for his drinking songs haha (thats according to wikipedia so may not be true).

That song represents one time in my life where I have felt sublime whilst singing this song-something for me to relate to.

The romantics were very caught up in this idea of the sublime, the philosophers of the time had made it seem incredibly vital for the artists to accomplish te feeling of it.

This is Friedrich’s Wanderer above thesea of fog. I believe it captures the idea of the sublime extremely well. We catch this beautiful moment in this man’s life where he is viewing creation, it is calm and relaxing yet also terrifying. We do not see his face because maybe we are to make up our own emotions from this work. The broad variation in colour is a huge point of romanticism.

471px-caspar_david_friedrich_032Ps22HopewreckFriedrichThis is another piece by Friedrich, it captures a similar powerful might to the first image and depicts a scene where a boat is caught in a world of ice.

I believe Thomas Cole’s vision of The Voyage of Life to be incredibly beautiful, and may choose to reference these in my own practice. Also in the gallery are the other pictures on this post as I can’t figure out how to have them on the post but not in the gallery.

Another idea of romanticism was the turn away from religious depictions of art  and a heavier focus on the self, the imagination and the individual. Sometimes (in fact in most cases) it was about becoming one with nature, a sort of soft diffusion by going back to basics. Sublime was part of this: it was described as the “strongest feeling the mind is capable of feeling.” The philosopher Edmund Burke argued that the sublime was different and very seperate from beauty. Beauty was a rational thought bringing on tranquility whilst sublime was emotional  and therefore lead to worrying, energising and terrifying emotions.

Turner was another very important romantic:


The fighting Temeraire is a beautiul depiction of the boat Temeraire being towed in to be disassebled and put into commission. It explored themes of old and new like a lot of the romantics did. The theme was very potent at the time due to the rapid change in industrialisation. It can be seen as a call to the past, a sort of desire to live in simpler times. This is very interesting to me as I feel that we are going through a similar phase at the moment, in some cases everything that has happened since the romantic period has been a reaction towards the industrialisation. Many people now are looking back to a simpler time than our own. This can come in the form of people wanting to live on farms and renovating old buildings, or even small things such as the rise in demand of vintage clothes.

We are the New new romantics.

Later on than the romantic period philosophers looked into the idea that sublime was a self-forgetfulness when faced with something of superior might, instead of running and panicking, the sublime replaced all emotions (or combined them all depending on the way you see it).

800px-UnderwaterBubblesYauger Williams breathing sublimity. A fear that you are going to drown as you are attempting to breath underwater but a beauty and insight into nature.

The mathematically sublime is something I think relates to my art practice at the moment. Here is a quote from wikipedia:

What is deeply unsettling about the mathematically sublime is that the mental faculties that present visual perceptions to the mind are inadequate to the concept corresponding to it; in other words, what we are able to make ourselves see cannot fully match up to what we know is there. We know it’s a mountain but we cannot take the whole thing into our perception. What this does, ironically, is to compel our awareness of the supremacy of the human reason. Our sensibility is incapable of coping with such sights, but our reason can assert the finitude of the presentation.

So that kinda makes sense and also kinda doesnt. So I’ll need to think about this tomorrow at my meditation time on the meadows.

It can be seen that the sublime was the turning point that began the modernist movement.

Wo die Rose hier blüht,
wo Reben um Lorbeer sich schlingen,
Wo das Turtelchen lockt,
wo sich das Grillchen ergötzt,
Welch ein Grab ist hier,
das alle Götter mit Leben
Schön bepflanzt und geziert?
Es ist Anakreons Ruh.
Frühling, Sommer, und Herbst
genoß der glückliche Dichter;
Vor dem Winter hat ihn endlich
der Hügel geschützt.

Author: gordondouglas

Performance artist and curator based in Glasgow, Scotland.

2 thoughts on “Romanticism and The Sublime”

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