Module Details

AR934-7-SP-CO: Horror, Hell And The Sublime: From Longinus To The Romantics

Note: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

Year: 2017/18
Department: Art History and Theory
Essex credit: 20
ECTS credit: 10
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: No
Comments: Not on offer for 2014-15

Teaching Staff: Dr Lisa Wade
Contact details: Graduate Administrator email: Tel: 01206 872705

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

(Updated 27 February 2014)

The aesthetic category of the 'Sublime' received its most famous and popular definition by Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Enquiry of 1757. Prior to this, however, there had been many attempts to understand the peculiar, awe-struck attraction elicited by arts whose subject matter evoked the grandeur of nature, the power of God, the fear of death, and the vice, violence, horror, and despair of human beings. But these attempts did not always use the term sublime. In what terms, then, was this aesthetic experience defined?

The main purpose of this ten week module will be to trace the various historical attempts to provide a theoretical definition for this experience, as well as to look at what were considered to be their representative artistic and literary manifestations. Although the module will cover a wide chronology, the pivotal period here will be from 1300-1550, and our general focus will be on images of horror and torment, death and Hell in the art of the Italian Renaissance. To conclude the module we will introduce some of the ways in which the 'Sublime' has been characterized and differentiated in more modern times.

Learning and Teaching Methods

One two hour seminar each week for ten weeks.

One essay of 3-5000 words

Course Aims

This course aims:
To investigate the aesthetic category of The Sublime from its earliest definitions and to explore those definitions as they are relevant to images of The Last Judgement from 1300-1550.

To investigate the ways in which the aesthetic category of The Sublime has been understood and manipulated from conception to the eighteenth century.

To research and investigate alternative attempts to understand an aesthetic experience based upon the attraction of the terrible and to trace the historical attempts to define such an experience.

To introduce and consider more modern definitions of The Sublime.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to:

Demonstrate a critical awareness of the major discourses surrounding the aesthetic category of The Sublime from its inception to the eighteenth century.

Demonstrate a familiarity with the most significant attempts to understand and define the experience of The Sublime from Longinus to the Romantics.

Write in an intelligent, analytical and critical manner on the historical importance of these ideas in relation to images of The Last Judgement and Hell from 1300-1550.

Demonstrate a familiarity with important primary source material and works of art relating to the topic.

Deliver a coherent oral presentation on an aspect of the topic.

Learning and Teaching Methods

One two hour seminar each week for ten weeks.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


  • (Updated 27 February 2014)
  • The Bible, Authorized King James Version, Revelation, Oxford and New York, 1997
  • Adams, James Luther, and Yates, Wilson, (eds.), The Grotesque in Art and Literature: Theological Reflections, Michigan, and Cambridge, 1997.
  • Alighieri, Dante, The Divine Comedy, Six Volumes, Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso; (Italian Text and Translation and Commentaries) Trans. Charles S. Singleton, Princeton, 1980.
  • Aristotle, Poetics, Trans. Gerald F. Else, Michigan, 1967
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, (esp. Supplement to Volume V)
  • Published in Five Volumes, Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Maryland, 1948
  • Saint Augustine, City of God, Trans. Henry Bettenson, London, 1984
  • Saint Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Trans. Henry Chadwick, Oxford, 1998
  • Burke, Edmund,
  • A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,
  • Adam Phillips (ed.), Oxford, 1990
  • Longinus, On Great Writing, (On The Sublime), Cambridge, 1991

Further information