The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume II
17:34 h Ideas Lvl 12.17
The translation of Hegel’s “Aesthetik” or “Philosophy of Fine Art,” which is contained in the four volumes of the present work, is the first complete translation in English of the three volumes devoted to this subject in the collected edition (Berlin, 1835).

The Philosophy of Fine Art

G. W. F. Hegel

Translated, with Notes, by
F. P. B. Osmaston, B. A.

Vol II


Second Part
Evolution of the Ideal in the Particular Types of Fine Art


All that has hitherto been the object of our examination in the first part of this inquiry referred to the reality of the Idea of the beautiful as Ideal of art. In whatever direction, however, we developed the notion of the ideal art-product, we throughout applied to it a meaning of purely general signification. But the idea of the beautiful implies a totality likewise of essential differences, which as such must in veritable form assert themselves. These differences we may broadly describe as the particular modes of art, as the evolved content of that which is implied in the notion of the Ideal, and which secures actual form through art. When, however, we speak of these forms of art as of distinct species or grades of the Ideal, we do not accept the term in the ordinary usage of it as though we found here in external guise particular classes of objects related to and modifying the Ideal respectively as their common genus. Species in the sense used here simply expresses the various and continuously expanding determination of the idea of the beautiful and the Ideal of art itself. The universality of the ideal representation is in the case posited not determined on the side of external existence, but is assumed to be the closer determination of itself in the explication of its own notion; or, in other words, it is the notion itself which unfolds itself in a totality of particular types of art.

More closely regarded, then, the specific types of art have their origin, as the unfolded realization of the Idea of the beautiful, in the very nature of the Idea itself, which by means of them presses forward to real and concrete appearance. Moreover, just in so far as it ceases to expand in the abstract determination or concrete fulness of any one of them, it manifests itself in some other form of realized expression. For the Idea is only Idea in its essential truth in so far as it proceeds in this self-evolution by means of its own activity. And inasmuch as it is, as Ideal, immediate appearance, and moreover with each mode thereof is still identical as the idea of the beautiful, we find that in every particular phase which reveals the Ideal in its process of self-explication we have another actual manifestation which is immediately related to the essential characterization of those diverse types of yet further expansion. It really is a matter of no consequence whether we regard this process as a process of the Idea within its own substance, or that of the form under which it attains determinate existence, inasmuch as both aspects are immediately bound up with each other, and the perfecting of the Idea as content, and the perfecting of its form are but two ways of expressing the same process. Or, to put the matter in the reverse way, the defects of a given form of art of this kind betray themselves as a defect of the Idea, in so far as such defects give a limited significance to the essential nature of the Idea in external form, and as such invest it with reality. When we consequently compare such still inadequate forms of art with what most obviously presents itself for comparison, that is, the true Ideal, we must be careful not to use expressions commonly applicable to works of art that are failures, which either express nothing at all, or have discovered an incompetence to express what ought to have been expressed. Rather for every form of the Idea there is a definite mode of appearance, which clothes it precisely in one of those particular forms of art to which we have adverted, adequate in every respect thereto, and the defective or perfected character of which consists entirely in the relative truth or untruth of the determinate form, under which and through which the Idea is actually realized. For the content must first be clothed with reality and concreteness before it can attain to the form wholly adequate to its essential truth. As we have already indicated in the previous division of our subject-matter, we have three fundamental forms or types of art to examine.

First, we have the symbolical. In this the Idea is still seeking for its true artistic expression, because it is here still essentially abstract and undetermined, and consequently has not mastered for itself the external appearance adequate to its own substance, but rather finds itself in unresolved opposition to the external objects in physical Nature and the world of mankind. And inasmuch as in this crude relation to objective existence it immediately surmises its own isolation, or is carried into some form of concrete existence by means, of universal characteristics which are void of all true definition, it vitiates and falsifies the actual forms of reality which it has found, and which it seizes in a wholly capricious way . And, consequently, instead of being able to identify itself completely with the object, it can only assert a kind of accord, or rather a still abstract reflection of significance and figure, a mode of representation which, being neither complete in its artistic fusion, nor capable of being completed, suffers the object to emerge as reciprocally external, strange, and inadequate to itself as it was before.

Secondly, we have the form in which the Idea, here in accordance with its true notional activity, is carried beyond the abstraction and indeterminacy of general characterization , is conscious of itself as free and infinite subjectivity, and grasps that self-conscious life in its real existence as Spirit (Mind). Spirit, as the free subject of consciousness, is self-determined through its own resources, and even in this its conscious grasp of self-determination possesses a form of externality adequate to express it, and one in which the essential import of that consciousness can be united with an explicit reality entirely appropriate. This second type of art, the classical, is based upon such absolutely homogeneous unity of content and form. In order, however, to make this unity complete the human spirit, in so far as it makes itself the object of art, must not be taken as Spirit in the absolute significance we refer to it, where it discovers its adequate subsistence wholly in the spiritual resources of its own essential domain, but rather as a still individualized spirit, and as such charged with a certain aspect of isolation. In other words, the free individual which classical art unites to its forms appears, it is true, as essentially universal, and consequently freed from all the mere contingence and particularity both of the subjective world of mind and the external world of Nature. But it is at the same time permeated by a universality which is itself essentially individualized. For the external form is necessarily both defined and singular by virtue of its externality, which it is only capable of completely fusing with an artistic content by representing that content as itself defined, and consequently of a limited character; and, moreover, it is only Spirit that is thus particularized which can pass into an objective shape and unite itself with the same in an inseparable unity.

In this form Art has reached the fulness of its own notion to this extent, namely, that the Idea, which is here spiritual individuality, brought into immediate accord with itself in the form of its bodily presence, receives from it a presentation so complete, that external existence is no longer able to preserve its consistency as against the ideal significance which it serves to express; or, to put it in the reverse way, the spiritual content is exclusively manifested in the elaborated form within which Art clothes it for sensuous perception, and thereby affirmatively asserts itself in the same.

Thirdly, we have the form in which the Idea of beauty grasps its own being as absolute Spirit, Spirit, that is to say, in the full consciousness of its untrammelled freedom. But for this very reason it is unable any more to obtain complete realization in forms which are external; its true determinate existence is now that which it possesses in itself as Spirit. That unity of the life of Spirit and its external appearance which we find in classical art is unbound, and it flees from the same once more into itself. It is this recoil which presents to us the fundamental type of the romantic type of art. Here we find, by reason of the free spirituality which pervades the content, such content makes a more ideal demand upon expression than the mere representation through an external or physical medium is able to supply; the form on its external side sinks therefore to a relation of indifference; and in the romantic form of art we consequently meet with a separation between content and form as we previously found it in the symbolic form, with this difference that it is now due to the subordination of matter to spiritual expression rather than the predominance of externality over ideal significance. It is in this way that symbolic art seeks after that perfected unity of ideal significance and external form, which classical art in its representation of substantive individuality succeeds in communicating to sensuous perception, and which romantic art passes over and beyond through its overwhelming insistence on the claims of Spirit.

Subsection I
The Symbolic Type of Art


Of the Symbol Generally

Symbol, in the signification we here attach to the word, is not merely the beginning of art from the point of view of its notional development, but marks also its first appearance in history. We may consequently regard it as only the forecourt of art, which is principally the possession of the East, and through which, after a variety of transitional steps and mediating passages, we are at last introduced to the genuine realization of the Ideal in the classical type of art. We must therefore from the very first take care to distinguish symbol where its unique characteristics provide it with an independent sphere of its own, in which it determines the radical and effective type of a certain form of art’s exposition and presentment from that kind of symbolic expression which amounts to no more than a purely external aspect of form entirely without such independent significance. In the latter sense we, in fact, come across it in the classical and romantic forms of art just as certain aspects of symbolical art are not wholly without the characteristic features of the classical Ideal, or present to us the origins of romantic art. Such reciprocal interplay between the fundamental forms of art attaches, however, merely to subsidiary images or isolated traits; it has no power whatever to modify, still less to expunge, the animating principle which essentially determines the character of the entire work of art.

In such cases where we find symbol elaborated in its entirely unique and independent form it is as a general rule characterized by the quality of the sublime, because its main impression is to show us the Idea still united to measureless dimension rather than rounded in a free and self-defined content; it would fain clothe itself with form, and yet is unable to secure in the substantial appearances of the world a definite form which is entirely adequate to express the abstractness and universality of its longing. On account of this inability to attain its purpose the Idea passes over and beyond the external existence which surrounds it instead of penetrating to the core or completely making its home therein. And this flight beyond the limits of the finite and visible world is precisely that which constitutes the general character of the sublime.

But before we proceed further it will be convenient, by way of elucidating the formal aspect of our subject, to explain at once, if in quite general terms, what we understand by the expression symbol.

Generally speaking, symbol is some form of external existence immediately presented to the senses, which, however, is not accepted for its own worth, as it lies thus before us in its immediacy, but for the wider and more general significance which it offers to our reflection. We may consequently distinguish between two points of view equally applicable to the term; first, the significance, and, secondly, the mode in which such significance is expressed. The first is a conception of the mind, or an object which stands wholly indifferent to any particular content, the latter is a form of sensuous existence or a representation of some kind or other.

1. Symbol, then, is in the first place a sign. When we speak of the significant and nothing more there is no necessary connection between the thing signified and its modus of expression whatever. This manner of its expression, this sensuous thing or image, so far from being immediately called up by that for which it is the sign, rather presents itself to the imagination as a wholly foreign content to it, by no means necessarily associated with it in a unique way. So, for example, in language tones are signs of specific conditions of idea or emotion. By far the greater number of the tones of any language are, however, associated with the ideas, which are thereby expressed entirely by chance, so far as the content of those ideas is concerned, even though the history of the development of language may show us that the original connection between the two was of a different nature, and that an essential element in the difference between one language and another consists in this, that the same idea is expressed through a different sound. Another example of such bare signs are colours , which we used in cockades or flags in order to express the nationality of an individual or vessel. Such colours by themselves alone carry no particular quality which can be immediately related to the thing they signify, that is, the nation which they represent. In a sense such as this, where the bond between the signification and the sign is one of indifference, symbol must not be understood when we connect the expression with art. For art consists precisely in the reciprocal relation, affinity, and substantive fusion of significance and form.

2. We must consequently interpret sign in a different sense when we speak of it as equivalent to symbol. The lion is, for example, a symbol of magnanimity, the fox symbolizes cunning, the circle eternity, the triangle the Triune God. Here we find that the lion and the fox themselves possess the qualities whose import they serve to express. In the same way the circle points beyond the mere indefinite extension, or the capriciously fixed limit of a straight line, or any other line that does not return upon itself, and which at the same time is suitable as the expression of a definite period of time; and the triangle regarded as a totality possesses the same number of sides and angles as is involved in the idea of God, when the determinations under which the religious consciousness defines the Supreme Being are expressed numerically.

In the latter forms of symbol therefore the objects presented to the senses have already in their own existence that significance, to represent and express which they are used; symbol as employed in this expanded sense is consequently no purely indifferent mark for something other than itself, but a significant fact which in its own external form already presents the content of the idea which it symbolizes. At the same time it is not the concrete thing it is itself, which it should bring before the imagination, but simply that general quality of significance which attaches to it.

3. We would, thirdly, draw attention to the fact that although symbol may not, as is the case with the purely external and formal sign, be wholly inadequate to the significance derived from it, yet, in order that it may retain its character as symbol, it must on the other hand present an aspect which is strange to it. In other words, though the content which is significant, and the form which is used to typify it in respect to a single quality, unite in agreement, none the less the symbolical form must possess at the same time still other qualities entirely independent of that one which is shared by it, and is once for all marked as significant, just as the content need not necessarily be a bare abstract quality such as strength or cunning, but rather a concrete substance, which on its side, too, possesses a variety of characteristics which distinguish it from the primary quality in which its symbolic character consists, and in the same way, but to a still greater degree, from everything else that characterizes the symbolical form. The lion, for example, possesses other qualities than mere strength, the fox than mere cunning, and the apprehension of God is not necessarily bound up with conceptions which imply number. The content, therefore, as thus viewed, is also placed in a relation of indifference to the symbolical form, which represents it, and the abstract quality which it typifies may quite possibly be present in countless other existing objects. In the same way a content which is thus varied in its composition may possess many qualities, to symbolize any of which other forms will equally serve where a similar correspondence with such is apparent. The same reasoning is also applicable to the external object in which any particular content is symbolically expressed. Such an object, in its concrete natural existence, possesses a number of characteristics for all of which it may stand as the symbol. The most obvious symbol for strength is unquestionably the lion, but the ox and the horn of the ox may equally serve as such, and from other points of view the ox possesses many other qualities as significant. But few objects, if any, have been brought home to the imagination with such a prodigal wealth of symbolic form and imagery as that of the Supreme Being. We may conclude, then, from the above remarks that the use of the term symbol is necessarily and essentially open to ambiguity.

(a) For, in the first place, no sooner do we look for some symbol than the doubt almost invariably arises whether a particular form is to be accepted as a symbol or no; and this is so, though we set on one side the further ambiguity with reference to the particular nature of the content, which a given form under all the variety of its aspects may be held to symbolize, many of which may be employed symbolically through associating links that do not appear on the surface .

Now what a symbol primarily offers us is generally speaking a form, an image, which of itself is the presentment of an immediate fact. Such immediate existence, or its image, a lion for example, an eagle, or a particular colour, stands there before us as it is, a valid existing fact. The question consequently arises whether a lion, whose image is set before us, merely is set there to express the natural fact, or whether in addition to this it carries a further significance, that is the more abstract connotation of mere strength, or the more concrete one of a hero or a period of the year, husbandry and anything else we choose to infer from it; whether in fact, as we say, the image is to be taken literally, or with a further ideal significance, or possibly only with the latter. The last case finds its illustration in symbolical expressions of speech and particular words such as comprehension, conclusion and others of the same kind. When such signify mental activities we have simply set before us the immediate import of a mental activity and no more without any recall to our memory of the material acts, which originally were implied in the meaning of these words. When on the contrary the picture of a lion is presented us we have not merely the significance to consider which it may bear as symbol, but also the bodily shape and presence of the king of beasts before our eyes. An ambiguity of this nature can only fully disappear when the sense attached to both aspects, namely, symbolical import, and its external form, is expressly stated, and we learn by this means the exact relation which exists between them. In that case, however, the concrete fact which is set before us ceases to be a symbol in the real meaning of the term, and becomes simply an image, the relation of which to significance is expressed by the well-known form of comparison, namely, simile. In the simile, that is to say, both factors are immediately presented to us, the general conception and its concrete image. When on the contrary reflection has not proceeded so far as to hold general conceptions in assured independence, and consequently to set them forth by themselves, in that case we find that the sensuous image to which they are cognate, and in which a significance of more general import is able to find its expression is not yet conceived as separate from such a significance, but both are still immediately held together in unity. And this it is which, as we shall see more closely as we proceed, constitutes the distinction between symbol and comparison. An illustration of the latter kind may be found in that exclamation of Karl Moor, as he gazes on the setting sun: “Thus dies a hero!” Here we see that the ideal significance is expressly separated from the sensuous impression while at the same time it is associated with the picture. In other cases, it is true even of similes this act of separation in relation is not so clearly marked, and the association appears to be more immediate; in such cases it must already appear manifest from the general content of the narrative, from the position assigned to the picture, or other circumstances, that viewed as merely a statement of fact, such an image is not justified, but that some special significance or other, which cannot fail to arrest our attention, is intended by it. When, for example, Luther says:

A steadfast stronghold is our God.

or we read:

In den Ocean schifft mit tausend Masten der Jungling,
Still auf geretteten Boot treibt in den Hafen der Greis .

we can have no doubt whatever upon the implied significance, whether it be of a protection suggested by “stronghold,” the world of hopes and life-plans symbolized in the picture of the ocean and the thousand masts; or the narrowed aims and possessions with the assured plot of ground at the end, which is reflected from the boat and the haven. In the same way when we read in the Old Testament: “May God break their teeth in their mouth, may the Lord shatter the hindermost teeth of the young lions,” it is obvious that neither the words “mouth,” “teeth,” nor “hindermost teeth of the young lions” are used in the literal sense, but are utilized as images and sensuous ideas, which carry a significance only present to the mind, and that such significance is all that matters.

This ambiguity, then, is all the more conspicuous in the case of symbolical representation for the reason that an image, which carries a particular significance, only receives the descriptive name of symbol when such significance ceases to be expressly marked by itself, or is otherwise clearly emphasized as it is in the case of the simile. No doubt the ambiguity of the genuine symbol is to this extent removed in that by virtue of this very uncertainty the fusion of the sensuous image and its significance becomes a matter more or less of convention and custom, a feature which is indispensably necessary in the case where mere signs are used, while on the other hand the simile asserts itself as something individual, discovered on the spur of the moment to assist the meaning, and is independently clear, because it emphasizes the significance alongside of that independence. At the same time, though no doubt the symbol may be clear enough to those who are habituated to its use, and whose imaginative life is at home in such a conventional atmosphere, it is a very different matter with all who are outside this native circle, or for whom it is now a thing of the Past; for such it is only the immediate sensuous representation which is in the first instance seized, and it remains for these in every way a question of doubt, whether they are to rest satisfied with that which lies openly before their eyes, or are to accept these as indicators to yet further imagery or ideas. When, for example, we gaze in Christian churches upon the triangle in some conspicuous position on the walls, we at once recognize that the intention is not to place before the view this geometrical figure simply as such, but rather to draw our attention to its spiritual significance. If, however, we were to find it elsewhere we should probably feel equally certain that such a figure had no reference whatever, either as sign or symbol, to the Trinity. On the other hand a folk strange to the ideas which have grown up in Christian countries might easily feel doubts in both cases, and it is by no means easy for ourselves to determine with equal certainty in all cases, whether a figure of this kind is to be understood as presenting us with its literal or symbolical interpretation.

(b) Moreover this ambiguity does not merely apply to isolated cases, but extends to vast areas of the entire domain of art, to the content of an almost unlimited material open to our inspection, to the content in full of all that Oriental art has ever produced. For this reason, as we enter for the first time the world of ancient Persian, Indian, or Egyptian figures and imaginative conceptions we experience a certain feeling of uncanniness, we wander at any rate in a world of problems. These fantastic images do not at once respond to our own world; we are neither pleased nor satisfied with the immediate impression they produce on us; rather we are instinctively carried forward by it to probe yet further into their significance, and to inquire what wider and profounder truths may lie concealed behind such representations. In other productions of the same kind it is apparent at the first glance that they are, just like so many fairy tales of children, merely an interplay of pictorial fancy, a strange texture of curiosities woven together at haphazard. For children delight in just such an even surface of pictures, a play of the fancy which makes no demand on effort or intelligence, but is simply a collection tumbled together. Nations on the contrary, even in their childhood, require as the food of their imaginative life a more essential content; and this is just what in fact we find in the figures of Indian and Egyptian art, although the interpretation of such problematical pictures is only dimly suggested, and we experience great difficulty in deciphering it.

Even in the province of classical art we meet now and again with a like uncertainty, though it is the essence of classical art to be throughout clear and intelligible on its own surface without the use of symbolism of any kind. And this clarity of classical art consists in this that it comprehends the true content of Art, in other words substantive subjectivity, and thereby discovers at the same time the true form, which essentially expresses nothing less than this genuine content, so that what it appears to mind, the significance that is of it is just that, which is veritably expressed in the external form, both the ideal aspect and the plastic shape being entirely adequate to each other; in symbolical art, the simile, and other forms of that kind, the image always brings before perception something in addition to that significance, for which it merely serves as the picture. At the same time classical art, too, presents us with an aspect of ambiguity. In considering the mythological phantasies of antique art it is frequently a matter most difficult to decide, whether we do rightly in taking such plastic figures simply for what they are, contenting ourselves with mere wonder over the wealth and charm, which this happy play of imaginative vigour offers us, for the reason of course that mythology is generally accepted as nothing but an idle collection of fairy tales, or whether on the contrary we have still to seek for a significance of wider range and greater depth. We shall feel the insistence of such a doubt in exceptional force where the content of these fables refers directly to the life and activity of the Divine, in cases, that is, where the stories handed down to us can only be regarded as utterly unworthy of the Supreme Being, indicative of an invention as entirely inadequate as it is in the worst possible taste. When we read, for example, the twelve labours of Hercules, or, to take a stronger case, are informed that Zeus hurled Hephaestus from Olympus on to the island of Lemnos, with the result that Vulcan remained lame ever after, we are no doubt ready to believe that the entire story is nothing but a fairy tale of the imagination. It is just as possible to believe that all the love affairs of Zeus are mere freaks of a prodigal fancy. But, on the other hand, for the very reason that such stories are told about the Supreme Divinity, it is quite equally credible that meaning of more universal import is hidden under that which such myths immediately transmit to us.

With regard to such facts as those above stated, there are two theories current of exceptional importance and contradictory to each other. The one accepts mythology as a collection of stories of purely external significance, which as such could not fail to be unworthy presentations of the Divine nature, though able, when regarded apart from such associations, to reveal to us much that is finely conceived, delightful, interesting, nay, even of great beauty. They offer us, however, no ground whatever for attempting to enlarge their significance. In this view mythology is in the form in which it is presented purely historical: under one aspect, that is, treating it as art, in its shapes, pictures, gods, together with all the practical activities and events it describes, it is amply self-sufficient, or rather by the way it brings before us that which is significant supplies its own elucidation; from another point of view, that is to say, its origin in history, we have to regard it as built up from local claims, no less than the chance caprice of priest, artist, and poet, the facts of history, foreign legends and traditions. The theory which is opposed to the above is unable to rest satisfied with the purely external husk of mythological form and narration, and insists on discovering beneath it a meaning of more universal and profounder import, to master which, as it breaks upon the surface, it conceives to be the main object of mythological inquiry regarded as the scientific examination of the mythos. In this view mythology must necessarily be apprehended as bound up with symbolism. And by symbolism all that is meant here is just this, that however bizarre, ridiculous, grotesque such myths appear to be, however much the adventitious caprice of a plastic imagination may contribute to their form, they are essentially a birth of Spirit; and in spite of it all contain in them significant ideas, that is, thoughts of universal significance upon the nature of God; they are, in short, Philosophemes. In this latter sense the recent work of Creuzer on symbolism is particularly noteworthy; this writer has once more taken up the review of the mythological conceptions of the ancient world, not, as is so frequently the fashion, from the external and prosaic standpoint, or simply with the object of determining this artistic merit, but rather expressly to elucidate the intrinsic rationality of their substance. Such an inquiry proceeds from the presupposition that myths and fabulous tales have their origin in the human spirit, which is capable, no doubt, of playing freely with its notions of gods, but in its religious interest marks the point where it enters a more exalted sphere, in which reason itself is the discoverer of form, albeit it is charged with the defect of being unable at this early stage to exhibit the core from which it grows with commensurate power. And this assumption is essentially just. Religion discovers its fountain-head in Spirit, which seeks after its truth, dimly discovers it, bringing the same to consciousness by means of any form, which displays an affinity with this form of truth, be it a form of narrower or wider borders. But once grant that it is reason which seeks after such forms, and the necessity is obvious to recognize the work of reason. Such a recognition is alone truly worthy of human inquiry. Whoever shelves this problem makes himself master of nothing but a motley show of unrelated learning. If we, on the other hand, probe into, the truth of mythological conceptions as it presents itself to mind, without at the same time excluding from our grasp that other aspect of them, that is, the haphazard caprice therein exercised by the imagination, and all the external influences, local or otherwise, which have contributed to this creation, we shall then be in a position to justify the various systems of mythology. To justify the work of man in the imagery and forms that are the product of his spirit is a noble enterprise, of rarer worth than the mere heaping together of the external facts of history. The objection has no doubt been pressed against Creuzer that here, treading in the steps of the new Platonists , the wider significance he elucidates from the myths is a creation he attaches to them himself; that, in short, he discovers conceptions in them which are not merely without any historical basis to uphold them, but which it can be positively shown he must have first introduced before he could have found them; in other words it is asserted that neither the people of such times nor the poets or priests — although from another point of view emphasis is frequently laid on the occult wisdom of the priesthood — could have possessed any knowledge of such ideas, which would have been wholly incompatible with the prevailing culture. Such objections, of course, are entitled to their full weight. These peoples, poets, and priests have not, in fact, been conscious of universal conceptions in the particular form of universality which the human mind now discovers at the root of their mythological ideas, in the sense that they could have deliberately clothed such conceptions in the forms of symbolism. And as a matter of fact this is never maintained even by Creuzer. But however true it may be that the reflections of the ancient world over its mythology were entirely different from those of the modern, we are by no means therefore entitled to conclude that the conceptions of its mythology are not essentially symbolical, and as such must be fully accepted; rather our inference should be that in the times when these peoples created the poetry of their myths, from the midst of a life itself steeped in poetry, they would instinctively bring home to consciousness all that was most spiritual and profound in that life in the forms of the imagination rather than that of reflection, and fail to separate conceptions which were more universal or abstract from the concrete creations of their phantasy. That this really was the case is a fact which we have in this inquiry to accept as fundamentally established; we may, nevertheless, be equally prepared to admit that, in such a form of interpretation as the symbolical, theories are apt to slip in which are merely the product of artifice and ingenuity, much as is the case with etymological science.

(c) At the same time, however much we may find ourselves in general agreement with the view that mythology, with its tales of the gods and its circumstantial pictures of a persistently poetic imagination, includes within its borders a content, that is to say rational and profound religious conceptions, it is still open to us to ask in our examination of the symbolical form of art whether for the same reason all mythology and art is to be interpreted in a symbolical sense, in accordance with that typical assertion of Friedrich von Schlegel, to the effect that we are bound to look for an allegory in every artistic representation. The symbolical or allegorical is then understood in the sense that a general conception is assumed to underlie every work of art as its motive principle and every mythological form, by bringing the universal character of which into prominence it should then be possible to expound the real significance of such a work or imaginative creation. This mode of treatment is, moreover, very commonly adopted in our own days. We find, for instance, in the more recent editions of Dante a marked tendency to interpret every canto in an exclusively allegorical sense, and no doubt the poetry of Dante contains many examples of such allegories. In the same way Heyne’s editions of the classical poets evince the same disposition in their commentaries to elucidate the general significance of every metaphorical expression by means of the abstract conceptions of the understanding. Nor is this to be wondered at; for it is just this faculty which is most ready to seize upon symbol and allegory, while at the same time it separates the sensuous image from its significance, and by so doing destroys the unity of the artistic form, an aspect over which it is, in its zeal for a symbolical interpretation, which aims exclusively at setting the universal characteristic as such in relief, wholly indifferent.

Such an extension of symbolism over every province of mythology and art is by no means that which we have in view in our present consideration of the symbolical form of art. It is not any part of our labours to ascertain to what extent a symbolical or allegorical significance, in this enlarged use of the term, is applicable to the forms of art. On the contrary we shall restrict ourselves entirely to the question how far symbolism itself is entitled to rank as a form of art; and the question is raised in order that we may finally determine the precise relation which subsists between artistic significance and artistic form in so far as such a relation is symbolical and stands in contrast to other modes of artistic presentation, in particular those of the classical and romantic art-forms. We must consequently endeavour before everything else expressly to limit the field of our review to that portion where we find the symbolical is independently portrayed in its essential character and is open to our consideration as such, rather than attempt to make a symbolical interpretation co-extensive with the entire domain of art. And it is consistently with such a purpose that we have already subdivided the Ideal of art under its respective symbolical, classical, and romantic forms.

In the signification we give to the expression the symbolical disappears at the point where we find that a free subjectivity rather than purely abstract conceptions determines the content of the artistic product. In this case the conscious subject is his own self-assured significance, his own self-manifestation. All that he feels, conceives, does, and perfects, his qualities, his actions, and his character, all this he actually is himself; the entire gamut of his spiritual and sensuous manifestation has no further significance than that of declaring his subjective unity, which, in this process of expansion and development of its own wealth, brings before the eyes of all the man himself as master over the entire field of objective reality thus presented to him, the world in which he discovers his existence. Significance and sensuous presentment, inward and outward reality, fact and picture, are here no longer separate from each other, assert themselves here no longer as merely cognate, the characteristic distinction of the symbolic relation, but rather as a totality, in which the manifestation possesses no other reality, the reality no other manifestation either outside of or alongside with itself. That which declares itself and that which is declared is here posited in its concrete unity. In this sense the gods of Greece, in so far, that is to say, as the art of Greece was able to represent them as free, self-subsistent, and unique types of personality, are to be accepted from no symbolical point of view, but as self-sufficient in their own persons. The actions of Zeus, for example, of Apollo or Athene are actions appropriated by Art to themselves and only themselves, and must not be allowed to stand for anything but the might and passion of such personages. If we once attempt to abstract from free individualities of this kind some general conception as the essential core of their significance, setting it alongside their concrete particularity as an interpretation of their entire and individual manifestation, we let fall or annihilate all that we have failed to observe, and it is precisely all in these figures which art seeks most to secure. For this reason artists have been unable to take kindly to such symbolical interpretations of all works of art and the mythological figures we find in them. For all that is left us in the sphere of art we have just been considering which is really compatible with an interpretation based on symbolism or allegory only affects subsidiary aspects, and is for that reason expressly limited to the attribute and the representative signs; the eagle, for example, stands by Zeus, an ox is the companion of the evangelist Luke; the Egyptians, on the contrary, beheld in the form of Apis the Divine itself.

The point so difficult to decide in connection with this manifestation of self-conscious freedom, otherwise so appropriate to artistic presentment, is just this, whether that which is placed before us as such a subject really possesses a subjective individuality of the above quality, or only carries the mere semblance of it in the form of a personified shadow . In this latter case personality is nothing but a superficial form, which fails to express its vital substance in particular acts no less than bodily form, which would otherwise enable it to penetrate through all that is external in its appearance as its own possession, and instead of this still retains another inwardness for the external reality as its significance, which is not either true personality or subjective freedom. It is precisely at this point that we find the boundary which includes or excludes symbolic art.

Our interest, then, in the consideration of the symbol consists in this, that we recognize thereby that process within itself where we find the beginnings of art, in so far as the same proceeds from the notion of that Ideal which unfolds itself gradually as art in its truth, and while doing so recognizes each stage of symbolical art as successive steps which conduct us to the same consummation. However intimate the connection between religion and art may be we are not here concerned to pass in review either symbols or religion under the range which is co-extensive with the wider signification of the word symbol or emblematical conceptions; we have exclusively to consider that aspect of them, according to which they belong to art in its own right, handing over their religious aspect to the historian of mythology and symbolism.

Division of the Subject

In proceeding now to a closer determination of the several divisions of symbolic art it will be necessary, in the first place, to fix the boundary lines within which the development of the successive grades of this type moves forward. Speaking generally, as we have already observed, the entire sphere we have now to define is in principle a forecourt of art. We have here, in the first instance, significant conceptions which are purely abstract, which are still in themselves destitute of essential individuality, the immediate artistic presentment of which may be as truly described either as adequate or inadequate . Our first definition of boundary consists, therefore, in determining generally the earliest modes under which artistic perception and representation work themselves out into actuality; on the further side of the line at the other extreme we have real art, in the direction of which symbolic art uplifts itself as to its truth.

1. In discussing the origins of this appearance of symbolic art from the subjective point of view, we may draw attention to an observation made previously, that the artistic consciousness, no less than the religious, or rather we should say both in their essential unity, and we may even include the impulse of scientific inquiry, have originated in wonder. The man who is still unable to wonder at anything lives in a condition of crassness and obtuseness which is devoid of all interest, in which for him everything is as naught for the reason that he fails as yet to separate or unravel himself from objects around him and their own immediate and independent existence. The man, however, at the opposite extreme, whose wonder is no longer excited, is the man who contemplates the entire external world as somewhat which he has made himself clear about. It may be under the abstract conceptions of the commonsense understanding resulting in some general survey of knowledge attainable by the average mind, or it may be in the noble or profounder consciousness of his own absolute spiritual freedom and universality. In either case he has converted the bare fact of such objects and their existence into some spiritual insight of their truth brought home to himself. We may conclude, then, that wonder originates in the condition where we find that man, as conscious Spirit, torn away from his first most immediate association with Nature, and from his earliest and entirely active relation to desire, steps back from Nature and his own individual existence, and seeks after and finds in the objects which surround him a universal, an essential and permanent principle. Then for the first time the facts of Nature astonish him, they become for him an other-than-himself he would fain appropriate, and within which he strives to rediscover his own substance, that is the universal, thoughts, reason. For the dim foretaste here of a higher and the consciousness of the external are still unsevered, and this though a contradiction between the objects of Nature and the Spirit which perceives them is already present, a contradiction in which these objects appear to repel him quite as much as they attract, and the feeling of which, in the force wherewith they thrust him away, is, in fact, the birth-pang of his very wonder.

The earliest result of this condition of wonder in man’s vision of Nature is that on the one hand he sets himself in opposition to Nature and her objective world as a principle , and adores her as Power; on the other he is equally possessed with a desire, which craves satisfaction, to render objective to himself his intuition of a higher, essential, and universal somewhat, and to look upon its rehabilitated presence. In this two-fold aspect of his conscious life he is confronted by reality in the following way. The particular objects of Nature, and above all those elementary facts, sea, rivers, mountains, and constellations, are not received by him in the singularity of their immediate presentment to sense, but, carried up into the sphere of imaginative conception, assume for that faculty the form of universal and essentially self-subsistent existence. And we may trace the beginning of art in this, that it reflects these ideas of the imagination thus universalized and essentially independent, in visible representation for immediate perception, and sets them forth for mind in the individual form of the same as objects. The mere adoration of external facts, with its Nature-cult and fetish-cult, is not as yet on this account an art of any kind.

Under the aspect in which it is related to the objective world, the beginnings of art are more intimately associated with religion. The earliest works of art are of the mythological order. In religion it is nothing less than the Absolute, which breaks to consciousness through its own impulse , though the determinating factors of that consciousness be the most abstract and jejune conceivable. And the earliest phase in this evolution of the Absolute is the phenomenal presence of Nature, in whose existence man dimly forebodes the Absolute, and envisages the same for himself in the semblance of natural objects. In this striving Art discovers its source. We shall find, however, in this very effort art first made visible, not so much where the Absolute is descried by human eyes in the external world which immediately confronts them, a mode of Divine reality in which they rest content, but rather where man’s consciousness evolves from its own substance a mode of apprehending what it conceives as the Absolute in the form of a self-subsistent externality, no less than that objective presentation which he unites with it in more or less adequate fashion. For we must remember that Art possesses a substantial content which is grasped by mind (spirit), and which, it is true, appears in external guise, but for all that in a form of externality, which is not merely immediately visible to sense, but is primarily the product of mind regarded as the existing fact which intrinsically comprehends that content as a whole and then expresses it. Art is consequently and by virtue of its power to create forms cognate with its own substance the first interpreter of the religious consciousness; it, in fact, is the first to make the prosaic view of the objective world a thing valid to itself , when our humanity has fought itself essentially free as the self-consciousness of Spirit from the immediacy of sense, and sets itself over against the same in the strength of the same freedom with which it accepts and understands that objectivity as simply external fact and no more. This complete separation of the subject and object of sense-perception is, however, indicative of a considerably later phase of man’s spiritual history. The first knowledge of truth, on the contrary, declares itself as an intermediate state between the purely unintelligent absorption of the individual in Nature and that spiritual condition which is entirely released from it. This intermediate state, however, in which Spirit merely envisages for itself its conceptions in the plastic forms of Nature’s objects because it still fails to master any form of higher significance, although it strives through such association to bring the two aspects of its experience into one homogeneous whole, is, to put it in its general terms, the attitude of art and poetry as contrasted with that of the prosaic understanding. And for this reason we find that the prosaic consciousness declares itself first in its full bloom, where, as is the case in the Roman and in later times throughout our own Christian world, the principle of the subjective freedom of Spirit is realized in its abstract and actually concrete form.

2. And, secondly, the final aim toward which the effort of symbolic art is directed, and with the attainment of which the symbolic type is dissolved, is classical art. But although we find in this latter form the true manifestation of art’s essence first elaborated, it is not the first type of art. Rather it presupposes within its content all the various mediating and transitional stages of the symbolic form itself. It is quite true that the essential aim of that content is to reveal the notion as a rounded and self-defined totality, that is in its concreteness and actuality as the individuality of Spirit; but the notion is only then able to declare itself in such concrete form to conscious life after it has passed through a variety of mediatory stages forced upon it by the abstract conceptions which the nature of its own initial impulse presupposes. It is classical art, however, which brings to a close all the mere preliminary experiments of art in the direction of symbolism and the sublime . And it is able to do this inasmuch as the subjective spirit finds in it, as its essential possession, a form truly adequate to its substance, and in the same way that the self-determining notion creates from its own potency the individual existence that fully expresses it. When once Art has discovered its true content, and by doing so found its true form, its search and striving after both, wherein the defect of symbolical art consists, is therewith at an end.

If we seek further for a closer principle of division of symbolic art within the limits of the boundaries on either extreme hitherto discussed, we shall find the same generally under the modes in accordance with which it contends with the genuine significances of art and their truly appropriate forms, the battle that is apparent in a content which is still striving in opposition to the truth of art, no less than in a form that is equally inadequate to express it. For both aspects, although externally united in the identity of one creation, are neither brought completely together themselves, nor permeated throughout with the notion of art in its truth; and for this reason they appear quite as much as contestants struggling to be free from the defects of their union. We may, in short, describe symbolic art throughout as a continuous war carried on between the comparative adequacy and inadequacy of its import and form ; and the varied gradations of symbolic art are not so much kinds of specific difference as they are stages and phases of one and the same incongruity between the spiritual idea and its sensuous medium.

At first, however, this contention is only potentially present, that is to say the incompatibility of these two sides, whose union is thus affirmed and enforced, is not yet openly present to consciousness. And this is so for the reason that it neither recognizes for itself in its universal nature the import which it seizes, nor is able to comprehend the realized form in its self-subsistent and self-exclusive existence; consequently, instead of representing to the senses both aspects in their difference, it is content to proceed upon the immediate appearance of identity which it enforces. In this original point of departure we have before us the as yet inseparable unity of the art-form and the symbolical expression it seeks after, fermenting, as it were, beneath the association of contradictory elements in mysterious guise — the unity, that is, of the real and primordial symbolism, whose plastic shapes are as yet not posited as symbols at all.

The termination of this process , on the other hand, is the disappearance and dissolution of the symbolic type altogether. The strife which has hitherto been merely implied in it is now brought home to the artistic consciousness. The act of symbolization in consequence becomes the conscious severation of the transparent significance, which is now recognized for what it is from the sensuous image cognate with it. In this severation, however, there still remains an express relation of reciprocity, which, however, declares itself as such no longer in the mode of immediate identity, but rather as a mere comparison between the two, in which that differentiation and separation which in the previous type was not brought clearly to consciousness still remains as conspicuous a factor. And this is the sphere of that symbolism where the symbol is recognized as such. Here we find the artistic import recognized and presented in its independent universality, whose concrete embodiment is expressly placed in subordination as an image of that presentment, and no more, and as such a comparative medium is utilized for the purpose of artistic representation.

Halfway between that starting-point above described and this termination of the symbolic type we find the art of the sublime. In this the essential import, posited as the universality of Spirit in its absolute self-exclusion, disengages itself in the first place from concrete existence, permitting the same to appear as a mere negative, external and subservient factor beside it, which it is unable to leave, in order that it may express itself in it, standing in its native self-subsistency. Rather it finds it necessary to declare it as that which is essentially defective and self-dissolving, and this, moreover, although it has naught beside as means for its expression than just this to which it opposes itself as external and nugatory. The splendour of this import of the sublime may be accepted in the order of the notional process as previous to that of the mode of genuine comparison for this reason, that the concrete particularity of natural and any other phenomena must necessarily be treated in the first place negatively, merely appropriated, that is to say, as the adornment and embellishment of the unreachable might of Spirit’s absolute significance, before that express severation and discriminating comparison of external shapes cognate with, and yet at the same time distinct from, the import, whose image they reproduce, can assert itself.

3. The three principal stages above indicated break up naturally on closer inspection into the following subdivisions we now summarize in the chapters which include them.

First Chapter

A. The first stage which presents itself in this portion of our subject-matter is as yet neither to be described strictly as symbolical, nor as belonging strictly to art; it rather clears the road to both. It is the sphere of the immediately cognized and substantive unity of the Absolute regarded as spiritual significance with its unsevered sensuous existence in a form presented by Nature.

B. In the second stage we pass to the symbol in its real sense; the dissolution of the first unity above described here commences, and while, on the one hand, the significances assert themselves in their independent universality above the particular phenomena of Nature, on the other they are necessarily forced with a like insistency to present themselves to consciousness together with this preconceived universality in the concrete form of natural objects. In this primary and twofold struggle to spiritualize Nature, and to present that which is born of Spirit to sense, at this stage of the conflict between them, we meet with all the ferment and wild, tossed hither and thither medley, the entire fantastic and confused world that is to say of symbolic art, which half surmises, it is true, the incongruity of its manner of shaping, yet is unable to remedy the same save through the distortion of its figures, while straining after a purely quantitative sublimity that would fain devour all limits. In this phase consequently we find ourselves in a world steeped with poetic phantasies, incredibilities and miracle, yet fail to encounter one work of genuine beauty.

C. Owing to this strife between the spiritual significance and its sensuous presentation, we are conducted thirdly to the stage we may describe as that of the true symbol, on which the symbolic work of art for the first time appears in its complete character. The forms and shapes are here no longer those present to sense, which, as we saw on the first mentioned stage, were immediately coincident with the Absolute as their positive existence, without any further modification at the hands of art; neither, as in the second phase, are they intent on asserting their unreconciled material against the universality of the significance merely through extensions of the quantitative limits of Nature’s objects, the ebullitions of a rioting fancy. Rather the symbolic form, which is here throughout apparent, is Art’s own creation, a work not merely capable of expressing its own individuality, but from another point of view possessed with the power of presenting at the same time both the particular object that it is and the further universal significance with which it is associated, and which it thereby discloses to the mind, so that these very shapes stand before us as problems which we are imperatively called upon to unriddle and probe to the inward charge which they carry.

We may at once further venture the general remark with reference to these more clearly defined types of a symbolism still to be ranked as elementary that they spring from the religious attitude to existence of entire nations; for which reason it will form part of our plan to recall their position in history. Not that complete identification of specific types with a given period is wholly feasible. Rather it would be truer to say that particular modes of conception and presentation, when we refer them generally to some kind of artistic type, are mingled up together, so that we find the specific type, which we have reason to regard as the fundamental one in any particular nation’s general view of existence, exemplified both in earlier and later peoples , though its repetition may only be discovered in subordinate and isolated cases. In general, however, we may say that we possess the more concrete manifestations and visible proofs of the first stage in the ancient Persian religion of the second in the Indian, of the third in that of Egypt.

Second Chapter

In the second chapter that significance, which has hitherto been more or less obscured by its particular sensuous form, has at last wrested its way to freedom, and its independent character is brought clearly to consciousness. With this victory the relation of real symbolism is dissolved; we have instead, through the way in which the absolute significance is cognized as the universal substance interpenetrating the entire extension of the visible world, the art of the absolute essence in the form of a symbolism of the sublime; and this now takes the place of purely symbolical and fantastic suggestions, deformities, and riddles.

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