The sublime is a feeling of awe inspired by power and vastness. In the aesthetic philosophy of the Romantic era natural phenomena such as avalanches, waterfalls, hurricanes, and volcanoes were thought especially to inspire sublime feelings. In the words of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), “we readily call these objects sublime, because they raise the forces of the soul above the height of vulgar commonplace, and discover within us a power of resistance of quite another kind, which gives us courage to be able to measure ourselves against the seeming omnipotence of nature.” Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) were Romantic artists who chose these types of subjects to provoke feelings of the sublime in their viewers.
J. M. W. Turner. Snow Storm–Hannibal Crossing the Alps. Oil on canvas. 1812. Tate Gallery, London.