Originally Posted by HSG
The greatest of Martin's engravings is undoubtedly Pandemonium (1831), which successfully realizes an architectural challenge that would have confounded the imagination of any other artist: depicting the vast city of the devils that Satan builds in Hell. Surpassing in scale even the Babylon of Belshazzar's Feast, this towering edifice fearfully impresses itself on the mind though its sheer, incomprehensible enormity. Satan stands proudly on a rock, his arm upraised, veritably willing Pandemonium out of the ground, much as a conductor summons music out of an orchestra.
The comparison between an orchestra conductor and the various examples of a lone figure on the rock, in Martin's paintings, is highly apt. Watching the clip from the Verdi Requiem
, featuring history's definitive conductor leading an orchestra in performance, illustrates how telling the comparison is. Satan in Pandemonium
(like Manfred in the mountain chasm, or Joshua on the rock) raises an arm and, through the sheer power of will, shapes existence itself into the form he imagines, just as the conductor, with the magus-like motions of his arms, shapes the sound that the orchestra creates.
Another point that has been made on the forum before, but bears repeating because it pertains to this topic, is how various art forms
are inherently Romantic in tendency, or less so, depending on who populates their critical elite.
Music is the most inherently Romantic of art forms, and thus the composers of the Sublime -- such as Beethoven -- are rightly recognized as being the greatest composers in history.
In literature, the works of Lord Byron, the poet of the Sublime, are renowned, but there, the critical history is more contentious, and anti-Romantic personalities have always undermined the appreciation for greatness, especially in the 20th century.
In visual art, the genius of the supreme painter of the Sublime, John Martin, has been most aggressively undermined by anti-Romantic forces. Nowhere has minimalism and modernism and the aesthetics of guilt more completely overtaken critical discussion than in visual art.
It's telling that while in music, Impressionism (à la Debussy) had a place in musical history but a rightly modest one, in visual art Impressionism was wielded practically as a club, by the critics, to denounce Romanticism and Academic/Victorian Classicism and any trace of the Sublime.
-- or at the very least the people who end up comprising their critical elite -- seem to be inherently Romantic or less so, or at least that has been the case over the past century and a half.
I very much hope that this Tate exhibition, the tone of which is very appreciative of the work of John Martin, will help restore the Sublime in visual art to the esteemed place it deserves. Martin, Byron, and Beethoven all deserve to be regarded as the greatest Romantic exponents of their respective art forms.