Enlightenment – On Beauty and Thought Provoking Works

Our delightful sculpture is of a cute chubby cheeked curly haired Cupid and ‘Beauty’. It is in The Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California . The scene is exuding the sort of confidence that comes from the certainty of never ending youth and a centuries old accumulation of knowledge. Here he seems to be offering ‘Beauty” a helping hand. The question has to be asked. Is Cupid blindfolding beauty or is he lifting the blindfold so that she can see what true love is. Writer, philosopher and musical theorist from Geneva (now the capital of Switzerland) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) believed beauty had a common source in ‘well ordered nature’ and that ‘taste is perfected with the same means as wisdom’…and what ‘must be done therefore…is…to cultivate taste.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas and imagination influenced the development of political, sociological and educational thought as well as French and American internal politics during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, During the 18th century in Europe aesthetics was established as a field of study by philosophers. There was a distinct emphasis on beauty, transcendence, correct taste and the sublime. A Wanderer above the Sea of Fog as detailed by artist Caspar David Freidrich -Kunsthalle Hamburg is a well known Romantic masterpiece described by writer John Lewis Gaddis in The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past, as leaving a contradictory impression, ‘suggesting mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it’. We cannot see his face, so it’s impossible for us to know whether the prospect facing the young man is exhilarating, terrifying, or both. Rock Star Professor Brian Cox used this analogy to open his new landmark television series Wonders of the Universe

While beautiful works were seen as thought provoking they were also clearly distinguishable from those that were considered sublime. Sublime images dazzled all by their brilliance. There were spectacular scenes from nature, awesome scenes like vast mountainscapes, the dazzling never ending sea, or light piercing the gently moving leaves of trees in a deep forest. They were also about enlightenment.

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