Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850


What is the “sublime”?

During the eighteenth century, philosophers established three different categories of aesthetics: the beautiful, the picturesque, and the sublime. In 1763, Immanuel Kant, philosopher of the German Enlightenment wrote Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, and in this treatise, he described beauty as relating to formal harmony, while the sublime related to intangible awe and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Edward Burke explained the concept of the sublime in the Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1957) when he wrote, “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible… is the source of the sublime” (as quoted in Pierce 93). An interest in the grandeur and vastness of the aesthetic experience, the concept of the sublime mirrored the values and interests of the Romantic Movement— emphasizing emotion, mystery, and the imagination.


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