[In the introduction to Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism, her study of the German Nazarene painters, which she has graciously shared with readers of this site, she observes that the 280 illustrations in the Protestant Julius Schorr von Carolsfeld's Die Bibel in Bildern [Picture Bible] cross “denominational boundaries, and soon the work was a staple in Catholic households. Its Old Testament scenes even entered Jewish visual culture, and this transfer of Nazarene imagery into a non-Christian context brings into focus a minority whose fate was hotly debated throughout the entire nineteenth century.” She next discusses the rise of anti-semitism. — George P. Landow]

Defining the self in relationship to the Jewish “other” had always been key to Christian identity; in the nineteenth century, it also became crucial to racial definitions of German-ness. What, then, was the stance of a religious revivalist group like the Nazarenes vis-à-vis Jewry?

Left: The Devil and two Jews. (detail of the lithograph at left). Right: Dedication. Ferdinand Oliver. 1822. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

One answer can be found in a print by Ferdinand Olivier, a genealogical tree of modern German art [This is the starting point for Chapter 6 in Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism.] Olivier’s statement is dramatic. On the left, Satan approaches in the company of two Jews. The group is fended off by a fearsome Archangel Michael, who sits beneath the magnificent oak. Its branches carry the names of those whom Olivier hailed as Germany’s avant-garde. This provocative, highly loaded composition brings us back to the initial question of typology’s innate ideology and to the value hierarchy inscribed in the rhetoric of ‘Old’ and ‘New’, shadow and revelation, anticipation and fulfillment. The influential literary theorist Norbert Frye, perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest advocate of typology as the indispensable basis for Western literature and its interpretation, was convinced that figural thinking could be divorced from its emphatically Christian nature. Such a divorce, as Joe Velaidum has persuasively argued, is impossible; the Nazarenes strenuously resisted it. Typology asserts the significance of Christianity’s mother religion, while simultaneously dismissing Judaism as a superseded stage in the evolution of God’s economy of Salvation. Olivier’s composition reminds us that this supercessionist view left no space for a post-biblical Jewry. Olivier depicts the modern Jew as spiritually blind, a potential contaminant against whom German art and culture has to be defended. This was a position as old as Christianity itself. And it still posed the same question: What to do with the ‘blindfolded synagogue’? How to solve the ‘Jewish question’? Olivier’s answer is conversion. The Nazarenes upheld the promise of full integration to those who would forsake the ways of their fathers and recognized the Lord. The leading role of the Jewish convert Philipp Veit within the group testifies to the practical realization of this maxim. This solution was rooted in traditional Christian models. It was, however, incompatible with modern anti-Semitism. The Nazarenes were anti-Judaic; they were not anti-Semitic.

The year of 1819 witnessed the first anti-Jewish riot in nineteenth-century Europe. Three years later, Olivier addressed this explosive problematic with his Satanic group. His example demonstrates the confluence of religious belief and political action. As such, Olivier’s proselytizing attitude embodied an important position as much within the theological make-up of Nazarene art as within the era’s socio-political debates. Yet little attention has been paid to Olivier’s treatment of post-biblical Jewry. Even after 1945, scholars have preferred to look at the print’s theoretical aspects, particularly the artistic manifesto mapped out by it. From this perspective, the spectacled Jew could be conflated with the hostile art critic. This shift from the obvious (anti-Judaism) to the art-historical (anti-academicism) was sustained by a misguided attempt to relate Satan to the genealogical tree unfolding above him. Satan’s presence, so the claim goes, was meant to indicate Olivier’s rejection of those Neoclassical artists whose nametags dangle directly above him. Such a reading is untenable, a stark misinterpretation born from secular preoccupation and lack of iconographic diligence. For the tree is a tree of virtue, and of virtue alone.


Grewe, Cordula. Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.

Last modified 19 June 2016