The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume IV, Georg Wilhelm Hegel
The Philosophy of Fine Art Volume IV
Georg Wilhelm Hegel
15:35 h Ideas Lvl 12.19
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 IV


Third Part
The System of the Particular Arts
Subsection III
The Romantic Arts
Chapter III



The temple of classical architecture demands a god, who resides therein. Sculpture exhibits the same in plastic beauty, and confers forms on the material it employs for this purpose, which do not in their nature remain external to what is spiritual, but are the form itself immanent in the defined content. The corporeality, however, and sensuousness, no less than the ideal universality of the sculptured figure, are opposed on the one hand to subjective ideality, and in part to the particularity of the individual, in whose element the content of the religious, no less than also the worldly life, must secure reality by virtue of a novel form of art. This mode of expression, which is of subjective import, and at the same time particularized in its characterization, the art of painting itself contributes under the principle of the plastic arts. In other words it subordinates the realistic expression of form to the more ideal presentment of colour, and makes the expression of the ideality of soul the central point of the presentment. The universal sphere, however, in which these arts are motived, the one in the ideal of symbolism, the other in the plastic ideal, the third in the romantic type, is the sensuous or external form of spirit and natural objects.

The spiritual content possesses, however, as essentially appertinent to the ideality of consciousness, a determinate existence which is for this ideality at the same time foreign to the medium itself of the external appearance and envisagement presented to it by material form. From this foreign element it is further necessary that it removes its conceptions in order to place them in a realm which, in respect to material no less than the mode of expression, is independently of an ideal or subjective character. This was the forward step which we saw music make, in so far as it embodied pure ideality and subjective emotion in the configurations of essentially resonant sound rather than in visible forms. It, however, passed by this very means into a further extreme, that is, an ideal mode of concentration not fully explicit, whose content in musical tones itself only found symbolic expression. For tone taken by itself is without content, and has its definition in the numerical relations, so that what is qualitative in the spiritual content no doubt generally corresponds to these quantitative relations which are expressed in essential differences, oppositions, and mediation, but in its qualitative determinacy is not entirely able to receive its impression in musical tone. If this aspect is not wholly to fail the art of music must, by reason of its onesidedness, summon to its assistance the more definite articulation of language, and requires for its more secure attachment to particularity and the characteristic expression of the content a text, without which it is unable to complete fully the ideality which is poured forth by means of musical tones.

By virtue of this expression of ideas and emotions, the abstract ideality of music receives a clearer and more secure exposition. At the same time what we have here unfolded by its means is, to a certain extent, not the point of view of idea and the artistic mode adapted to its expression, but merely the emotional life as it accompanies the same; also in part we find that here, too, music entirely divests itself of fusion with the verbal text in order to develop its own movement without restraint in the world of tone simply. For this reason the realm of idea, which is unable to remain under I such a more purely abstract mode of ideal intensity, and seeks a configuration in a world which embraces its one homogeneous and concrete reality, breaks away on its part likewise from the bond of music, and in the exclusive art of poetry discovers the adequate realization it demands.

Poetry, in other words the art of human speech, is the third or final step, the totality, which unites and embraces in a yet higher sphere, in the sphere of the very life of Spirit itself, the two extremes of the plastic arts and music. For on the one hand poetry contains just as music does the principle which apprehends an ideal content in its ideality, the principle which in architecture, sculpture, and painting is lost, or at most incompletely asserted. And on the other hand it expatiates itself, under the modes of ideal conception, intuition, and feeling simply, in an objective world, which does not entirely destroy the defined forms of sculpture and painting, and is capable of unfolding all the conditions of an event, a succession or interchange of emotional states, passions, conceptions, and the exclusive course of human action with more completeness than any other art.


But in a still more intimate way the art of poetry constitutes a third or final term in its relation to painting and music regarded as the romantic arts.

(a) One reason of this is that its principle is that generally of an intelligence which has nothing further to do with gross matter as such, seeking, as is the case with architecture, to transform it through symbolism to an environment related analogically to spiritual life, or as in the case of sculpture in order to implant upon material substance the natural form congenial to such life under the spatial condition of its expression. What the end is now is to express immediately for mind the manifestations of Spirit with all its ideas of imagination and art, without setting forth their external and visible bodily presence. And a further reason consists in this, that poetry is able to grasp in the form of ideality itself and with a far greater wealth than is possible for music or painting, not merely the innermost actuality of conscious life, but also what is particular and individual in external existence, and equally able to contrast such facts in the complete diversity of their specific traits and accidental peculiarities.

(b) The art of poetry is, however, as totality, also again, from another point of view, essentially to be distinguished from the above-mentioned arts whose fundamental qualities it thus in a measure combines.

(α) In this respect, if we compare it with painting, the latter art is throughout at an advantage, where it is of importance to bring before our senses a content under the condition of its external appearance. It is true no doubt that poetry is able by various means to envisualize objects precisely in the way that for the imagination generally the principle of objectification is made real to our intuitive sense. But in so far as conceptive power, in the element of which poetry pre-eminently moves, is of a spiritual nature and implies the presence of the universality of thought, it is incapable of attaining the definition of sensuous perception. On the other hand, the varied traits which poetry brings together, in order to make the concrete form of a content visible, do not fall as with painting into one and the same totality, which is set before us wholly as a simultaneous appearance of all its details, but they break apart, inasmuch as the imagination can only give us the complexity it contains under the form of succession. This is, however, only a defect from the sensuous point of view, a defect which reason is able in its own way to rectify. That is to say, inasmuch as human speech, even in the case where it endeavours to summon before our sight a concrete object, is not concerned with the sensuous apprehension of an immediate external object, but always with the ideal relation, the mental intuition, for this reason the particular characteristics, albeit they are set before us in a series, are nevertheless fused together in the element of one essentially homogeneous spirit, which is able to qualify the effect of succession, to bring the varied array into one picture, and to secure and enjoy this picture in imaginative contemplation. Moreover, this deficiency of sensuous realization and objective definition, when we contrast poetry with painting, brings as a contrary result the possibility of an incalculable superfluity of material. For inasmuch as the poetic art in painting restricts itself to a determinate space, and even more to a distinct moment in a situation or action, for this reason it is prevented from portraying an object in its entire ideal profundity no less than in the extension of its temporal development. But what is true is throughout concrete in the sense that it comprises within its embrace a unity of essential determinations. In its phenomenal appearance, however, these are not merely unfolded as a co-existent spatial phenomenon but in a temporal series as a history, whose course painting is only able to present in a relatively inadequate manner. Even in the case of every stalk, every tree, each has in this sense its history, a change, sequence, and exclusive whole of varied conditions. And this is even more true of the sphere of spirit, which can only be exhaustively portrayed as veritable spirit in phenomenal guise when it is set before our imagination as such a process.

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