Three Attempts at a Dutch Sublime

Christophe Madelein, Jürgen Pieters


In this article we present three central texts from the Dutch debate on the sublime between 1750 and 1850. It is surprising that hardly any attention has been paid to these three texts – and, by extension, to the translations of international works on the sublime that preceded their publication in the Dutch-language area. These texts, however, are not the work of second-rate authors: Paulus van Hemert, Johannes Kinker and Willem Bilderdijk are leading representatives of Dutch culture in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Each of these three authors was sufficiently familiar with the international debate on the sublime, as the occasional references in their texts to the writings of fellow authors on the sublime from other countries testify. They were also familiar with the history of the sublime, to which they no doubt hoped to contribute with their own texts. We give a short outline of this historical development and then try to place the Dutch interventions within the framework of the international debate. From this it may then transpire that ‘Dutch attempts at sublimity’ should not by definition be thought of disparagingly.


Sublime; Netherlands; Kinker; Van Hemert; Bilderdijk

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