The challenge of the sublime

From Burke's Philosophical Enquiry to British Romantic art

By Hélène Ibata

The challenge of the sublime


  • Hardcover
  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1742-7
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: February 2018
  • BIC Category: Literature & literary studies / Literature: history & criticism, Humanities / Social & cultural history, The arts / History of art & design styles: c 1600 to c 1800, History, Early Modern History, Art History, Literature, History of art, HISTORY / Social History, ART / History / Romanticism
  • Series: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies


This book examines the links between the unprecedented visual inventiveness of the Romantic period in Britain and eighteenth-century theories of the sublime. Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), in particular, is shown to have directly or indirectly challenged visual artists to explore not just new themes, but also new compositional strategies and visual media such as panoramas and book illustrations, by arguing that the sublime was beyond the reach of painting. More significantly, it began to call into question mimetic representational models, causing artists to reflect about the presentation of the unpresentable and drawing attention to the process of artistic production itself, rather than the finished artwork.


'Most studies of the sublime simply bypass a lot of criticism because reviewing the history of the criticism of nineteenth-century aesthetics is burdensome. Ibata, instead, puts her work on Burke in the context of as much previous work as is practically feasible and puts Burke's treatise in relation to contemporary accounts of the sublime in a way that is rarely, if ever, accomplished.she helps the reader to understand what is unique in Burke and which other writers on the sublime influenced each aspect of his ideas.'
European Romantic Review


Part I: From the Enquiry to the Academy
1 The Philosophical Enquiry, theories of the sublime and the sister arts tradition
2 Presenting the unpresentable: the modernity of Burke's Enquiry
3 Reynolds, the great style and the Burkean sublime
4 The sublime contained: academic compromises
Part II: Beyond the 'narrow limits of painting'
5 Immersive spectatorship at the panorama and the aesthetics of the sublime
6 Frames, edges and 'unlimitation'
7 'Sublime dreams': ruin paintings and architectural fantasies
Part III: Relocating the sublime: Blake, Turner and creative endeavour
8 Against and beyond Burke: Blake's 'sublime Labours'
9 Turner: from sublime association to sublime energy


Hélène Ibata is Professor of English and Visual Studies at the University of Strasbourg

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