Visual Representations of the Numinous
: A philosophical, art historical and theological inquiry 1780-1880

  • David Michael Greenwood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis embraces the disciplines of philosophy, art history and practical theology. It is concerned with the ways in which artists have endeavoured to express the numinous or point towards the Transcendent through landscape painting. The Transcendent is described as that recognition in mankind of the capacity of knowing truth intuitively, or of attaining a scientific knowledge of an order of existence transcending the reach of the senses, and of which we can have no sensible experience. This thesis will demonstrate that landscape drawing and painting can be a means of showing the viewer glimpses of that transcendent domain. Whilst paintings of theophanies and of biblical scenes have long been created by artists to produce works that are suitable for altarpieces, it will be my contention that depictions of landscape can be also be used as aids to devotion. The period chosen for the study is 1780-1880 but for contextualisation I will at times discuss matters that lie outside these boundaries. This period covers the reawakening of the discipline of aesthetics, and the development of Idealism in Germany propounded by Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schelling, one of the consequences of which led to recognition of landscape painting as fine art. I argue that some artists express their view of God through their images, producing hieroglyphs, divine images which can induce mystical experiences in the mind of the viewer and could be used as aids to devotion with some even being regarded as sacred. A discussion of religious experience and trigger factors is included, embracing the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Otto. The works of a number of artists have been considered but special emphasis is given to Samuel Palmer and Caspar David Friedrich
Date of Award24 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJohn Harvey (Supervisor) & Colin Cruise (Supervisor)

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