Discipline: Art

(18th century)

This emerged as an aesthetic term in 18th-century literature and art, denoting the extraordinary and the marvellous, and was initially based on the concept of 'elevation' as propounded by LONGINUS (c. AD 213-73) in his thesis PERI HUPSOUS.

The 1674 translation of Longinus by French critic BOILEAU (1636-1711) made this concept more widely known in Europe, but the most significant contribution to its understanding was made by English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Enquiry. He proposed the power of suggestiveness as a stimulus for invention, and the importance of the emotion of terror.

English painter and critic JONATHAN RICHARDSON (1665-1745) expounded on the nature of the sublime in art, singling out excellence, the greatest of ideas and invention as important features of the theory.

W Burke, Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)
J Richardson, An Essay on the Theory of Painting (1725)


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