Jean-Baptiste Du Bos: Reflections on Genius and Art


  • Holger Rajavee


Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, artistic genius, 18th century aesthetics, enlightenment, aesthetic experience


In 1719 Jean-Baptiste Du Bos publishes his treatise Réflexions Critiques
sur la Poésia et sur la Peinture, which Voltaire has called ‘the most
useful book that has ever be written on the subject by any European
nation’. In his book the author deals with the problem of artistic
genius, a phenomenon that was in focus from late 17th century in
many treatises on theory of art, especially in France and England.
This article concentrates on the interpretation of this particular
idea in the work of Du Bos, who tries to explain it through a wide
range of empirical examples, using the latest achievements from
different branches of science. His concept of ‘physiological genius’
and ‘climatic genius’ can be seen as unique. His reflections on
sensation-based aesthetic experience and the new way of defining
the relationship between the artist-genius and the dilettante art
experiencer, influenced later 18th century authors who wrote about
art theory and aesthetics (Lessing, Home, Herder, even Kant). Du
Bos's idea of wider public engagement with art, and art appreciation,
becomes relevant in the 18th and 19th centuries, so one can say that in
many respects Du Bos's treatment is ahead of its time and that these
ideas are also relevant in the contemporary context.


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Author Biography

Holger Rajavee

Holger Rajavee (PhD), lecturer at the University of Tartu’s Department
of Art History, assistant professor at the Pallas University of Applied
Sciences. Rajavee has published articles on art criticism and theory,
and curated numerous exhibitions. His main research topics are
the philosophical and theoretical problems related to art that are
associated primarily with aesthetics, history of ideas, and particularly
the development of the artist persona.