JMW Turner And The Sublime


J.M.W Turner And The Sublime Essay, Research Paper

Describe the term Sublime, Illustrating your definition through

reference to the work of Two of these artists; Turner, Martin, de

Loutherbourg, Danby, Ward.

The Sublime is a term that has had several meanings over a

period of time. The earlier usage would have been to describe very

emotional scenes, depicting romance, love and glory. Later Sublime

was used to mean deep thought provoking paintings of power, mans

subordination to the powers of nature and dark emotions.

This later meaning of the word is the one to which I will

compare Turner and Martin s work. Turner s early work was more

accessible than his later, almost abstract work, however the work

during his later years would possibly be easiest to find the elements

of the Sublime , One prominent painting, which exemplifies this

theory is Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps, exh. 1812 , this

painting has a great deal of dark emotions running through it. The

small area along the bottom depicting Hannibles army raping,

murdering and torturing many people. The painting also shows the

other element of the Sublime , mans subordination to nature. The

way Turner has shown this is the way he has used space on the

canvas, the human element of the painting being a relatively small

area, compared with the raging storm over head. This symbolises

that no matter how powerful the army may be, nature is always more

powerful. The choice of colours is also symbolistic of the emotions

with dark greys, and blacks, with red and orange across the bottom

showing the blood spilt.

Turner also used the theme of mans subordination to nature

many times, such as in Shipwreck, exh. 1805 in this painting he uses

the layout of the boats, bringing the spectator into the painting, with

this in mind, using the sail he creates an agitated lozenge, where it

seems as though the sea is really moving. The life boat is shown with

a pale sail in an almost monochromatic background and although it

is trying to save the fishermen it is being drawn into the waves, and

is having trouble remaining stable.

Martin however was more interested in the dark emotions than

the part nature played. He mainly chose to paint religious themes,

this was probably due to his strongly religious and moralistic

upbringing. One such example of his portrayal of the Sublime in a

deeply religious context is The fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium,

from Paradise Lost , Book 1 exh. 1841 this picture is a landscape

with the figures only tiny and insignificant, this is common in

Martins work, like Turner, yet martin s landscape are always more

fantasy than reality, rather than Turner s love of observational

drawing. This paintings colours are intensely significant, the reds,

oranges and deep purples symbolising the rebellion and dark theme

of the painting.

The Great day of his wrath, 1851-3 is another powerful

landscape, with the figures, less important than the great expanses

of rock and fire. The lightning in the top corner and the falling rocks

are to symbolise gods power, and the dark emotions are the theme

again as an evil act must take place before such vengeance is taken.

Many of martin s work was reproduced as etchings, these being

black and white intensify the drama of the scenes, showing evilness

and darkness, which is not matched by Turner s work. Martins depth

of religion was put across in his paintings, This Sublime approach

would have been approved of at the time due to there moralistic

character and portrayal of hell.

The two artists chosen, Turner and Martin exemplify the given

meaning of Sublime each taking preference to different approaches,

Turner creating awesome paintings of mans subordination to nature,

and Martin, and his religious themes being ideal for the dark

emotional side.

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