A research project investigating the concept and cultural practice of the sublime in nature, art and language.

Installation view of Olafur Eliassons The Weather Project 2003
Olafur Eliasson
The Weather Project 2003
Installation view, Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

The concept and practice of the sublime

The sublime as concept and cultural practice has played a central role in western understanding, engaging aesthetic, spiritual and ethical values ranging from the mid seventeenth-century translations of Longinus, to Burkean and Kantian sublimes of the proto-Romantic and Romantic periods, via nineteenth-century concerns with science and theology to recent theoretical writing. However, there is still much to be investigated in the spaces between art, language and nature. As well as landscape art, this three-year Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded research project encompasses philosophy, literature, music, film, theology and science, and the complex interactions between these different spheres.

Encourage debate on the role of the sublime

Drawing together a wide range of individuals under the umbrella of Tate’s collection, the aim of this project is to debate and collaborate on a series of interrelated events and research activities focused on the role of the sublime in our perceptions of the natural world. In particular, the project focused on four areas which relate to Tate’s remit in historic, modern and contemporary art:

  • the landscape sublime
  • the sublime in crisis
  • an Anglo-American sublime
  • an ecological sublime. 

A broad range of multidisciplinary scholars 

Those involved in the investigation will include established scholars from a broad range of disciplines, including curators, artists, postgraduate students and museum professionals. In order to engage Tate’s audience closely in the exploration of the sublime, the project encompassed displays, a web presence, and a diverse range of educational activities, directed towards school children, students and the adult community.

Relevance of the sublime today

Through investigation, the project aimed to achieve a greater understanding of the ways in which perceptions of the sublime in the external landscape are shaped by cultural experiences – through art, literature, and ideas communicated through history, philosophy, poetry, politics and religion. It was not the objective of the project to impose the concept of the sublime upon its audience, but to discover through collaboration, whether the sublime remains a legitimate and potent concept in the contemporary world.

Past events

The Sublime in Crisis? New Perspectives on the Sublime in British Visual Culture 1760–1900
14–15 September 2009
Conference schedule: The Sublime in Crisis (PDF, 26KB)
Poster: The Sublime in Crisis (PDF, 440KB)

Wrong from the Start: Modernism and the Sublime
30 November 2009
Conference schedule: Wrong from the Start: Modernism and the Sublime (PDF, 20KB)
Poster: Wrong from the Start: Modernism and the Sublime (PDF, 300KB)

The Contemporary Sublime, Tate Britain
20 February 2010
Conference schedule: The Contemporary Sublime  (PDF, 48KB)

Supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council

Project Information

Lead department(s): 
Project leader: 
Christine Riding, Curator, Tate Britain
Project team: 
Professor Philip Shaw, University of Leicester (Co-Investigator)
Dr Peter de Bolla, University of Cambridge (Consultant)
Dr Lydia Hamlett (Research Assistant)
Rikke Hansen (PhD student)
Professor Steven Connor, London Consortium (PhD supervisor)
David Buckland and Greg Hilty, Cape Farewell (Artist Consultants)