Art Term


Theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid eighteenth century, where he defined sublime art as art that refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation

John Martin, ‘The Great Day of His Wrath’ 1851–3
John Martin
The Great Day of His Wrath 1851–3

The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful published in 1757. He defined the sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling. He wrote ‘whatever is in any sort terrible or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime’.

In landscape the sublime is exemplified by J.M.W Turner’s sea storms and mountain scenes and in history painting by the violent dramas of Henry Fuseli. The notion that a legitimate function of art can be to produce upsetting or disturbing effects was an important element in Romantic art and remains fundamental to art today.

related terms and concepts


Term in use by the early nineteenth century to describe the movement in art and literature distinguished by a new ...

History painting

The term history painting was introduced in the seventeenth century to describe paintings with subject matter drawn from classical history ...

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The Art of the Sublime

Explore the history of the sublime and what it means today

Tate Etc

AAAARGH!: John Martin I

Jonathan Griffin

John Martin is best known for his dramatic scenes of apocalyptic destruction and biblical catastrophe. During his life his work ...

selected artists in the collection

selected artworks in the collection

Joseph Wright of Derby A Moonlight with a Lighthouse, Coast of Tuscany

?exhibited 1789

Joseph Mallord William Turner Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower

exhibited 1798

Philip James De Loutherbourg An Avalanche in the Alps


John Martin The Plains of Heaven