“the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt”
― Immanuel Kant,
OK so I’m going to go and do some research in Paris soon. Am going to bunk down in the Large Scale 19th Century Paintings room in the Louvre and analyse what’s ‘cinematic’ about them.
[Gericault, Raft of the Medusa, wikimedia commons]
However back in the day, these gigantic pictures were often exhibited more like movies: in darkened rooms, covered by a velvet curtain, tickets and at timed entry points.
I’m researching the relationship between realism and the sublime in these pictures and how this relates to the relationship between realism and the sublime in cinema, in films that present historical subjects.
Gericault researched the subject of his great painting, Raft of the Medusa, very thoroughly. he ended up knowing more about the real life shipwreck and the resulting cannibalism than even those who had survived it. Yet when he came to painting it he didn’t try to just replicate the scene, he made it truly terrifying yet awe-fully riveting. Cinema (and present day high-quality TV) does the same thing.
I’m presently compelled by the dramatic fact-ion of Black Sails, for example – a heady mixture of realism and sublime, of historical and material research and high-drama fictive imagination.Many people have been similarly stirred by Gladiator, for instance – a film famously inspired by a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
[Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pollice Verso, wikimedia commons]
Ridley Scott therefore had Gérôme, uncredited, on boards as a kind of proto production designer. It was Gérôme who imagined and worked out how the picture the roaring crowds at the Colosseum and the dire moment of imperial whim over life and death. He exhaustively researched Ancient Rome, but he also must have had a pretty sage understanding of how crowds operate.
Imagine how Gericault might have production designed for a blockbuster film or series of the Raft of the Medusa story! The writer Jonathan Crary pointed out that about the only in depth research the painter didn’t conduct, was sampling a bite of human flesh from the cadavers he was studying to see what drowned flesh looked like.
“…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; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling … ” Edmund Burke,
Of course, Burke also noted that “It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration and chiefly excites our passions.” And he is right: it is precisely our personal ignorance of what it would be like to experience being shipwrecked on a raft and forced eat my colleague’s dead flesh (hint: awful) – or what it would be like to be a pirate in the early 18th century Caribbean (hint: horrible, by today’s luxe standards) – that make these scenarios appealing through the medium of art.
So, let’s see what I find. Am not just going to look at Gericault and his friends in Denon 77- I’m also going to see the many dramatic murals that are spread around the city. Paris has many more interior murals than London.