Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Elevated minds: The Sublime in the public arts in 17th-century Paris and Amsterdam

The aim of this project is to study the influence of Longinus’s treatise ‘On the sublime’ on practice and theory of architecture and theatre in seventeenth-century Paris and Amsterdam.

2013 - 2017
Stijn Bussels
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant

Description of the programme

The sublime combines conflicting emotions: fear and awe, horror and fascination. It sweeps the public off its feet in an overwhelming experience of beauty mixed with terror and admiration, caused by stupendous works of art, terrifying natural events, such as earthquakes, or acts that are so shocking they can hardly be put into words. Originally a rhetorical concept, its main classical source is ps.-Longinus' treatise Peri hupsous or On the Sublime, probably written in the 1st century AD.

Although the sublime is sometimes presented as part of, or even as a sub-category of the rhetorical genus grande, the most elevated of the three genera elecutionis, we will focus in this project on how in the early modern period the sublime functioned as a distinct artistic and aesthetic category, distinguished by the combination of the conflicting emotions. The development of this artistic category is underpinned by the reception, dissemination and transformations of the treatise by ps.-Longinus, and to a lesser degree by that of other varieties of the sublime developed in antiquity by Lucretius, Seneca and other Roman imperial authors.

Contrary to the widely-held assumptions, the revival of the sublime did not begin with the adaptation published by Boileau in 1674; it was not connected solely with the early Greek editions that began to appear from 1554, nor was its impact limited to the rhetoric and literature. Manuscript copies circulated in Quattrocento Italy and from there spread to France, the Low Countries and Britain. Many of these early versions were produced in milieus distinguished by strong political influence combined with an evident interest in the visual arts and the theatre such as the Farnese and the Barberini in Rome, as well as Mazarin in Paris and the families from which the city government of Amsterdam was chosen.

  1. To study the role of the sublime in architecture and theatre in Paris and Amsterdam; reconstruct the milieus in which the early editions of ps.-Longinus were produced, the aims and agendas of those involved in their making, their audience, function and reception; and to trace the historical development of the dissemination of the sublime.
  2. To study a series of key buildings and theatrical events in which the sublime played a role.
  3. To address the issue of the relation between reactions to works of art, buildings and plays that clearly display characteristics of the sublime experience as described by ps.-Longinus, and the history of the dissemination of his treatise. If such reactions can be related to the sublime, was Peri hupsous the only source, or did the public, patrons and artists also draw on other formulations of the sublime, in Lucretius and Seneca for instance, or in humanist versions by among others Lipsius or Vossius?
  4. To develop an understanding of the sublime in the arts of this period that avoids easy characterizations in terms of a post-Burkean or post-Kantian classification as an aesthetic experience, on a par with those of the beautiful and the ugly.

Stijn Bussels

  • Bussels S.P.M. & Oostveldt B. van (2016), Introduction: The Sublime and Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Art, Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 8(2 (Summer2016)): 1-16.
  • Bussels S.P.M. (2016), Theories of the sublime in the Dutch Golden Age. Franciscus Junius, Joost van den Vondel and Petrus Wittewrongel, History of European Ideas 42. 
  • Bussels S.P.M. (2015), ‘Vondel’s Brothers and the Power of Imagination’, Comparative Drama 49/1(Spring 2015): 49-68. 
  • Eck C.A. van, Bussels S.P.M., Delbeke M.J.F. & Pieters J.F. (2012), Translations of the Sublime. The Early Modern Reception and Dissemination of Longinus' Peri Hupsous in Rhetoric, the Visual Arts, Architecture and the Theatre. Leiden: Brill. 
  • Bussels S.P.M. (2012), Rhetoric, Performance and Power: The Antwerp Entry of Prince Philip in 1549. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi. 
  • Bussels S.P.M. (2012), The Animated Image: Roman Theory on Naturalism. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Bram van Oostveldt


  • Bram van Oostveldt; Tranen om het alledaagse. Diderot en het verlangen naar natuurlijkheid in het Brusselse theaterleven in de achttiende eeuw, Hilversum: Verloren, 2014. See the publisher's website for more information.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, The Theatre de la Monnaie and Theatre Life in the 18th Century Austrian Netherlands, Gent: Academia Press, 2000
  • Bram van Oostveldt, Christel Stalpaert, Jaak van Schoor (eds.), Performing Arts in the 18th century. New Perspectives in Historical and Methodological Research, Gent: Academia Press, 1999.

Peer reviewed Articles

  • Bram van Oostveldt, “Married, Divorced, Lost: The Theatrical Space as a Signifier. ”in: Arcadia Zeitschrift für vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, 2001, 36 (2), pp. 308-322.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, Stijn Bussels; “Het theater van de macht en de macht van het theater” in: Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 2002, 115 (2), pp. 166-180.
  • Bram van Oostveldt; “11 februari 1921: de eerste Vlaamse opvoering van Pelléas et Mélisande”, in: Maurice Maeterlinck Annales, 2003, XXXIII, pp. 121-154.
  • Bram van Oostveldt; “Arcadië tussen herinnering en utopie. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Mimi in’t hof en het verlangen naar natuurlijkheid, in: Tijdschrift Werkgroep Achttiende eeuw, 2006.
  • Bram van Oostveldt en Stijn Bussels; ‘Vreemde schurken op het toneel. De secularisering van het Ottomaanse schrikbeeld en het ‘gouvernementaliteitsbegrip’ in vroegmoderne spektakels uit de Zuidelijke Nederlanden’, in: Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis, Nummer 2, 120e jaargang 2007, 192-207.
  • Bram van Oostveldt,  ‘Ut pictura Hortus / Ut theatrum hortus: Theatricality and French Picturesque Gardentheory (1771-1795)’ in: Art History, 2010, vol. 33 (2), 364-377. ASCA-AWARD for best article in 2010.
  • Bram van Oostveldt en Stijn Bussels, ‘Vlecht den Gentschen zoon een duurzame eerekroon!’ De inhuldiging van Lieven Bauwens’Standbeeld en de beeldconstructie van een vaderlijke arbeidersvriend’ in: Brood en Rozen, Tijdschrift voor sociale Geschiedenis, 2011, 5-32.
  • Bram van Oostveldt-, “Echoues sur les rivages du présent: La Lettre de Parthenizza de Charles Joseph de Ligne” in: Nouvelles Annales du Prince de Ligne, 2012, 1-22.
  • Bram van Oostveldt en Stijn Bussels; ‘De Antwerpse wereldtentoonstelling van 1894 als ambigu spektakel van de moderniteit’ in: Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 2012, 4-19.
  • Bram van Oostveldt en Stijn Bussels, ‘Re-enacting a scrutinzied past at the Antwerp World Exhibition of 1894’ in : Forum Modernes Theater, 2012, (in Print).
  • Bram van Oostveldt en Stijn Bussels; “Wij zijn geen Crapuul! Jacob Kat’s strijd als vroegsocialistisch theatermaker, redenaar en journalist’ in: Brood en Rozen, Tijdschrift voor sociale Geschiedenis, 2012, 28-47.
  • Bram van Oostveldt en with Stijn Bussels, “One never sees monsters without experiencing emotion: Le Merveillieux and the Sublime in Theories on French Performing Arts 1650-1750” in: Intersections, Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture – Special Issue on ‘Pre-Histories of the Sublime’, 2012, 139-162.

Chapters in books:

  • Bram van Oostveldt; “French Influence on the Acting Style of the Rhetoricians in the Southern Netherlands in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century”, in: Elisabeth Détis (red.); Le spectateur européen/ The European Spectator, Montpellier: Cirbel, 2000, pp. 89-108.
  • Bram van Oostveldt; “Diderot/Barthes: natuurlijkheid als bewijs van werkelijkheid” in: Kris Pint (ed.); Denkend in andere hoofden. Over Roland Barthes, Gent: Studia Germanica Gandensia - Libri & Spiegel Historiael, 2005, p. 181-203.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, Stijn Bussels, Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker; ‘Geheugen, spreek. Jetty Roels, Alain Platel en Barbara Raes op zoek naar sporen van dans in Gent’, in: Patrick Allegaert (ed.); De speler en de strop. Tweehonderd jaar theater in Gent, Gent, Snoeck, 2006, 193-210.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, Stijn Bussels; ‘How to Perform the Polis. The Locus of Tragical Deception’, in: Arthur Cools, Thomas Crombez, en Johan Taels (eds.), The Locus of Tragedy, Brill, Leiden, 2008.
  • Bram van Oostveldt,  “Ut pictura Hortus / Ut theatrum hortus: Theatricality and French Picturesque Gardentheory (1771-1795)” in: Caroline van Eck, Stijn Bussels (eds.); Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Architecture, Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, 2011, pp. 164-177.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, “Spectatorship and Involvement in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride” in: Bruno Forment (ed.) (Dis)embodying myths in Baroque opera: multidisciplinary perspectives, Leuven: University Press, 2012.
  • Bram van Oostveldt, ‘Between the Stage and the Public Space: Refiguring Spectatorship in Eighteenth-Century French Theatre Architecture’, in: Caroline van Eck, Sigrid de Jong (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Architecture of The Enlightenment, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014, (in print).
  • Bram van Oostveldt, ‘Margravial Opera House Bayreuth (1744-1748). Joseph Saint Pierre / Giuseppe Galli Bibiena’ in: Caroline van Eck, Sigrid de Jong (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Architecture of The Enlightenment, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014, (in print). 

Wieneke Jansen

  • Jansen, W.L., ‘O mores, o artes. De doorwerking van Longinus, Peri hypsous in twee zeventiende-eeuwse Nederlandse geleerden’, in: Dros, E.J., Huygen, F.L., Janssen, C.G.M., Kolenbrander, S.D. & Oerlemans, A.P.A. (eds.), O tempora, o mores. Decadentie door de eeuwen heen (Leiden: Uitgeverij Collegium Classicum cui nomen M.F., 2013), 127-137.

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