The emotionalist school of ethics providing the foundations to Romanticism in Art, as well as the promise of democracy in the French Revolution emerged in response to the English empiricism of Social Contract Philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Ideas of sympathy developed by the British school of moral philosophy propose an ethics of feelings, including the emotional transformation of rationalism’s limits in art, culture, politics and religion.
Such conceptions of human nature are found in the intellectual discourse of nineteenth century Victorian critic of art and society, John Ruskin. Ruskin summates early Modern notions of sympathy, expounding that "the imaginative understanding of the natures of others, and the power of putting ourselves in their place, is the faculty on which virtue depends" (Landow, 2011). This mirrors Locke’s claim that there is no innate good and evil relative to being, only utterly human distinction in moral value. Scottish emotionalist moral philosophy as seen in the works of Smith, Stewart and Reid identify moral sense with imagination. Here, the impetus to aesthetic creation is a consequence with vast human connection.
The emphasis on imagination has important implications for art and literature between the late 18th century and early 20th century, as the emotions become the main raison d’etre of artistic production vis-à-vis the ideals of Romantic intensity, and sincerity. The shift from Neo-classical order to that of the unstructured composition of Romanticism is a noted change witnessed in this period (Kleiner and Mamiya, 2005). Emotionalism reflects the philosophical disassociation of healthy human mind with organized hierarchies of reason. The complicity of reason with emotions sets the pace for patriotism in art and in sovereignty. Passions once reserved for the recesses of private life are now played out as an essential theatre in the establishment of the democratic nation-state.
Emotionalism: Romantic School
Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) (Delacroix, 1830).
Eugène Delacroix’s commemoration of the July Revolution of 1830 is the personification of Liberty leading the people forward after the fall of King Charles the X (Kleiner and Mamiya, 2005). Symbolism of patriotic unity and sympathy for the new French Republic, the painting reflects the realization of Enlightenment political philosophy and the promise of a democratic future. The subject, as well as the painterly style exhibits an emotional sincerity distinct from the portraiture and static authority of the Neoclassical French monarchy.
The Second of May 1808 (El 2 de mayo de 1808 en Madrid) (Goya, 1814).
Painted by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808 depicts rebellion against the French occupation of Spain leading to the Peninsular War (Kleiner and Mamiya, 2005). Without singular perspective, the emotionalism of Goya’s work emphasizes the drama and chaos of colonial expulsion.
The Third of May 1808 (El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid) (Goya, 1814).
Known as Los fusilamientos de la montaña del Príncipe Pío and Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 follows his El 2 de mayo de 1808 en Madrid (Kleiner and Mamiya, 2005). The composite of emotional force is a polestar archetypal illustration of the horrors of war. An example of the Romantic period’s radicalism, the early modern convention advances the revolutionary concept of country and spirit.
In the Romantic period, the radical reduction of difference in power relations is forged through dissemination of authority, now replaced by democratic ideals of the spirit. The revolutionary passions expressed in Delacroix and Goya’s work evidence the conscription of aesthetic emotion as a formal principle and visual element within early Modern painting; placing human sentiment at the heart of liberty.
Kleiner, K. S. and Mamiya, C. J. (2005). Art through the ages, third edition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Landow, G.P. (2011). Emotionalist Moral Philosophy: Sympathy and the Moral Theory that Overthrew Kings. Saylor. Retrieved from: http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/VictoriaWeb-Emotionalist-Moral-Philosophy.pdf