Left. Fig. 9 Johann Friedrich Overbeck’s Portrait of Franz Pforr. Middle: Fig. 15. Philipp Veit’s Self-portrait. Right: Fig. 38. Overbeck’s Self-portrait.
Widely acclaimed in their own time, the Nazarene artists of early nineteenth-century Germany are virtually unknown to the museum-going public in most Western countries today. Even among art historians, only a few have much familiarity with the work of Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Friedrich and Ferdinand Olivier, Peter Cornelius, Philipp Veit.
Left: Fig. 37. Theodor von Rehbenitz. Self-portrait. Pencil on paper. Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden. Middle: Fig. 10: Louis Janmot. Self-portrait. 1832. Private Collection. Right: Fig. 93. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Self-Portrait with Wife and Son Alfons. c. 1820 Oil on panel. Behn-Haus, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck.
Keith Andrews’ pioneering monograph in English, The Nazarenes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), cannot be said to have substantially changed this situation and the book has been allowed to go out of print.1 The first question to be addressed in any reconsideration of the Nazarenes is therefore historiographical: How did they fall into almost total oblivion outside their native land? As most judgments of their work by those who do know it are, in addition, ambiguous at best, a further step must be to reconstruct the situation to which the Nazarenes were responding and the political, ethical, and aesthetic choices they faced. In order to look at them fairly, we have to understand what they hoped to achieve in their art and what directions in the art of their time they sought to oppose. Finally, we need to approach their work aesthetically, through open, unbiased interpretation and judgment of individual works of art.
Critical Reception of the Nazarenes
After achieving celebrity in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Nazarenes were already falling into disfavor in Germany by the early 1840s. Jacob Burckhardt, for one, judged them severely. Like Goethe before him, he disliked what he saw as their subordination of the visual to the conceptual, notably their placing of art in the service of religion, their cult of the Italian "Primitives" and of German and Netherlandish art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and their rejection of the direction in which painting had evolved since Raphael. The Nazarenes and their principal advocates, notably Friedrich Schlegel, had denounced the great Venetian colorists as marking the first step in a steady degradation of art in modern times, whereas Burckhardt deeply admired the Venetians' "Existenzbilder" (as he called them) for their sensuous celebration, even in paintings on ostensibly religious themes, of the beauty of worldly existence and for the contribution this represented, in his view, to the emancipation of both humanity and art.2 In the early 1840s, Burckhardt was still young and enthusiastic enough to have been put out, above all, by the Nazarenes' turning their backs on the dynamic processes of history. Their relative distance from the optimistic progressivism of their own tumultuous time was expressed artistically in the still symmetry of their compositions, the flatness of their paint application, and, more generally, their resolve to break with the artistic tradition of the baroque and the rococo and seek inspiration instead in the art of the high Renaissance (Michelangelo and the young Raphael on the one hand, Albrecht Dürer on the other) and in the Italian "Primitives"—although their actual debt to the latter was less than their frequently professed admiration for these artists' simplicity and authenticity might lead one to expect.3 In practical terms, their critical distance from the passions of their time was reflected in their decision, at the height of the political and social upheavals provoked by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, to leave Germany for Rome—"eternal" and universal despite (or because of) its loss of worldly power. Their support of German nationhood, though sincere, had a distinctly anachronistic flavor and was, in any case, embraced more fervently by some than by others.4 To Burckhardt, as to many in the Vormärz period—among them, Burckhardt's teacher and friend, the Berlin art historian Franz Kugler, and his future colleague at Zurich, Friedrich Theodor Vischer—the Nazarenes' work (Fig. 1) compared unfavorably with the lively and patriotic history paintings of the Belgian romantic school, which created a sensation on being exhibited in Germany in 1842 (Fig. 2).5 In particular, Burckhardt claimed, the Nazarenes' paintings, drawings, and frescoes on themes from classical and old German history and legend, notably those being produced for Ludwig I of Bavaria by Peter Cornelius and Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, were pedantic and bookish.
Left: Fig 1. . Right: Fig. 2. Louis Gallait, The Abdication of Charles V. 1841. Oil on canvas. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Even later detractors of the Nazarenes were nonplussed by the enthusiasm the Belgian Romantics aroused in Germany in the 1840s. Richard Muther, for instance, a judicious and responsible art historian writing at the end of the nineteenth century, who favored modern French art, found little of value in the the works of Louis Gallait and Edmond Bièfve, whom Burckhardt had praised unreservedly, and deplored their influence on German painting. The "unsophisticated and unpretentious works" being turned out by native German artists at the time were at least as good as the work of the Belgians, he declared, and "in any event reflected intentions far superior to the overworked, pasty trivialities produced later under Belgian influence." The Belgians' vaunted painterly technique, he argued, in no way merited the praise heaped upon it.6
It is not easy to form an independent opinion in the matter, since the Nazarenes are, to say the least, poorly represented in our great public collections. Even when a gallery owns work by them, it is rarely exhibited. Much of it, moreover, took the form of fresco or wall painting and is thus not easily removed from its original site. One must either travel to Germany to see work by the Nazarenes or content oneself with reproductions in books and exhibition catalogues. In fact, the virtual absence of paintings and drawings by the Nazarenes from public collections in the United States, Great Britain, and France, the dearth of any courses about them or, for that matter, about nineteenth-century German art in general, in our college and university art history programs, and the resulting public ignorance of this body of work constitute in themselves a curious problem of historiography as well as esthetics. Were Burckhardt and Kugler, Heinrich Heine and Vischer right, in the end, when they spurned the Nazarenes as insipid and uninspired?
Fig. 3: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Christ Giving the Keys to Heaven to Peter. 1815-20. Oil on canvas. Musée Ingres, Montauban.
The question is the more puzzling as, in their time, these now almost forgotten painters enjoyed a favorable European reputation.7 From about 1830 on, they were much admired in France. Ingres is alleged to have frequented them during his first stay in Rome (1806–24). He certainly shared their keen interest in the Italian "Primitives," and yet, like them, was most influenced by Raphael. Ingres's Jesus Giving the Keys to St. Peter, painted in Rome some time between 1815 and 1820, draws on a cartoon by Raphael on the same theme (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), but also shows strong affinities with works by the Nazarenes (Fig. 3). His Entry of the Dauphin, the Future Charles V, into Paris is said to have been influenced by Friedrich Overbeck's Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, which he almost certainly saw in Rome (Figs. 4, 5).
Fig. 4. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Entry of the Dauphin, the Future Charles V, into Paris. 1821. Oil on canvas. Gift of Paul Rosenberg & Company, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford.
But it was among the students and followers of Ingres—himself accused by some contemporary critics of being regressive or "gothique"—and especially among the painters of the Ecole de Lyon, that the impact of the Nazarenes was particularly strong.
Fig 5. Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. 1808-24. Oil on canvas. Museen für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck.
And through the work of their leader, Paul Chenavard, this impact reached all the way to Puvis de Chavannes and his followers at the end of the nineteenth century (Figs. 6, 7).8 and can thus be said to have had an influence on modern, post-Impressionist painting.
Left. Fig. 6: Victor Orsel, Good and Evil. Oil on canvas. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon. Right: Fig. 7: Eugène-Emmanuel Amaury-Duval, Annunciation, 1860. Oil on canvas. Muséed’Orsay, Paris
One student of Ingres' from Lyons, the gifted but now forgotten Louis Janmot, acknowledged this affinity with the Nazarenes when he adopted the characteristic Nazarene garb, as represented in Overbeck's portraits of Pforr and Cornelius for his own self-portrait(Figs. 9, 10, 28).
By the mid-1830s, a conscious effort was being made in France to revive the Christian inspiration of art. After a slow start, Alexis-François Rio's De la Poésie chrétienne (1836), which underscored the Christian roots of art down to the late Renaissance, began to wield considerable influence. 9 It was around this time that in the liberal Catholic circles around Hugues-Félicité de Lamennais and Henri-Dominique Lacordaire the Nazarenes were adopted as models of the modern Christian artist. As early as 1832 Overbeck had been hailed as "le Pérugin ressuscité" by Lacordaire's friend, the politician and publicist Charles-René Forbes, comte de Montalembert, who had visited the artist's studio in Rome, 10 and, in an open letter to Victor Hugo the following year, Montalembert sang the praises of the "new German school […] of painting, which, under the dual direction of Overbeck and Cornelius, shines every day more brightly." Thanks to these artists, he declared, Germany was set to become the home of a new renaissance of art—"la patrie de l'art régénéré, la seconde Italie de l'Europe moderne." 11 Steel engravings and lithographs of works by Overbeck on religious themes continued in fact to circulate widely in France until quite late in the century (Fig. 11).
Fig. 11. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Christ Healing the Sick. From Vierzehn Evangelische Darstellungen aus dem Neuen Testament. 1843-53. Engraving.
The popularity of the Nazarene artists was not confined, however, to Christian revivalist milieux, though it was probably strongest there. Heine tells of running into Victor Cousin in 1840 gazing enraptured at some Overbeck prints in a Paris gallery window. 13 One of Ingres's students, deploring the hostile reception of his master's work by the salon critics, claimed in 1846 that Ingres was the only artist in France "qui puisse tenir tête aux Overbeck et aux Cornelius." Such was the prestige of the Nazarenes that Baudelaire felt it necessary to attack what he called "l'école néo-chrétienne d'Overbeck" in the name of "l'art pur."14
Across the Channel, in the land of Constable and Turner, but also of Flaxman, Blake, and Samuel Palmer, the Art Journal in 1839 declared the Germans "assuredly the greatest artists of Europe." There was hardly a number of the Art Journal, Quentin Bell noted in his lectures on Victorian art in the mid-1960s, that did not carry some account of the life and works of the Nazarenes. Friedrich Overbeck, in particular, their spiritual leader over six decades, was described in it as "a truly great man, whose works have elevated his country."15 Pugin's pronouncement in his Contrasts (1841) that Overbeck was "the prince of painters" doubtless reflected shared religious convictions and a shared view of the function of art.16 However, the admiration of Sir Thomas Lawrence, the portrait painter, then at the peak of his European fame, is unlikely to have been motivated by any but artistic considerations.17
Left: Fig. 12. Gustav H. Naecke. Jacob and Rachel. 1823. Oil on board. Courtesy of the Kunsthalle, Bremen. Right: Fig. 13. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Jacob and Rachel. Drawing in pen and brown ink, with red chalk. Graphische Sammlung, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main.
Fig. 14. William Dyce, Jacob and Rachel. 1853. Oil on canvas. Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
At any rate, it is easy to document the influence of the Nazarenes on such nineteenth-century English artists as William Dyce and Charles Eastlake, the first director of the National Gallery in London and a president of the Royal Academy (Figs. 12, 13, 14), as well as on various members of the future Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, notably William Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown (Figs. 15, 16).18 Dyce, Eastlake, and Hunt all sought out the Nazarenes in Rome and were personally acquainted with several of them; Brown went to Munich in 1840 hoping to study with Peter Cornelius.19 As the artist chiefly responsible, along with the architect Leo von Klenze, for executing the grandiose artistic projects by which Ludwig I of Bavaria hoped to transform his undistinguished capital into a new Athens and at the same time create a sense of Bavarian and German nationality, Cornelius was consulted by the British Parliamentary select committee charged with making recommendations for the decoration of Charles Barry's newly rebuilt Houses of Parliament and may even have been sounded out about undertaking the work himself.20 In Théophile Gautier's words, Cornelius "enjoyed a celebrity such as few artists enjoy in their lifetime," being admired, as Gautier put it rather caustically in 1855, "as if he were already dead."21 When Ruskin's father offered the manuscript of the first volume of Modern Painters to the prominent London publisher John Murray in the early 1840s, the latter is said to have turned it down with the remark that he might have been more interested if Ruskin had offered him a manuscript on the Nazarenes.22 The painter Adolf Naumann in George Eliot's Middlemarch (Book II, chapter 22), from whom Will Ladislaw has been taking lessons—one of the "long-haired German artists at Rome"—is generally taken to be modeled on Overbeck. Like many travelers to Italy, Eliot, in 1860, had visited Overbeck's studio in Rome.23 Speaking before an Oxford audience in 1965, Quentin Bell wondered, understandably enough, "Who were these painters and why did they attract so much attention at a time when Ingres and Delacroix, Géricault, Corot, and Daumier were so little regarded by Englishmen?"24
Unlike their French, British, and American counterparts, German art historians have naturally always had something to say about the Nazarenes, though in the hundred years from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century, what they said was usually negative. Often their judgments appear to have resulted from ideological preferences rather than close attention to the paintings. Even the National Socialist art historian Kurt Karl Eberlein, who might have been expected to promote a major national school of painters, preferred the bolder and more "virile" North German romantics (especially Caspar David Friedrich) to the "softer," Italianate Nazarenes.25 The Nazarenes' use of traditional Christian topoi from the Old and New Testaments (explicitly defended by Friedrich Schlegel, who in his later years denounced attempts to invent new myths as arbitrary and subjective26) and their return, formally, to Fra Angelico and Perugino, but above all, the young Raphael and Michelangelo—was contrasted with the bold and original use of Christian and "old German" symbols by the Northern Protestant artists to create a new romantic imagery and mythology and with the vigor of the Renaissance artists themselves. In general, the Nazarenes came to be seen as lacking vitality and energy—"devoid of warmth and life," as a French critic repeated quite recently27—qualities highly prized in all European countries in an age of rapid social change and industrialization, and not least in the Germany of the Gründerzeit, by liberals and conservatives alike (see below: Ideological Criteria in German Judgments of the Nazarenes”). To many, the Nazarenes did not have the courage to be truly modern, truly of their time. Caspar David Friedrich criticized them on this score as early as 1830. "The works of *** remind me of playing cards," he wrote in his journal. "Shuffled now this way, now that, the cards always remain the same. And so I recall having seen all these figures many times before; even the backgrounds are familiar to me from old pictures and engravings. One picture smacks of Raphael, another of Michelangelo and the predecessors of both. Would it not be better if they all carried on their brow the stamp of their creator? But perhaps he has no stamp of his own?"28
Likewise it seemed to Heine in 1829 that Peter Cornelius was like a ghost from the age of Raphael who had risen from the dead to create a few more works—"ein toter Schöpfer" (a dead creator), whose pictures "look out at us with eyes from the fifteenth century. The draperies are ghostly, as if rustling past us at midnight; the bodies are magically powerful, drawn with dream-like accuracy; except that they are bloodless, colorless, devoid of the pulsing of life." According to Heine, it was as though Cornelius's works "did not have long to live and had all been born an hour before their death."29 Visiting Overbeck's studio in Rome in 1854, the historian Ferdinand Gregorovius found everything muted and lifeless, "motionless and noiseless…human beings who have drained the life out of themselves, art that has drained the life out of itself, speech devoid of words, images devoid of color."30 Still in the same vein, at the end of the nineteenth century, Richard Muther, while acknowledging "a certain authenticity and sincerity of sentiment" in their work, faulted the Nazarenes for having "deprived their figures of blood and being, in order to lend them only the abstract beauty of line."31 Finally, in the early years of the twentieth century, Burckhardt's student Heinrich Wölfflin distinguished between "a primitivism of the beginning" and "a primitivism of the end," marked by "the childishness of old age" and "the simplicity that comes from exhaustion." The famous frescoes of the Casa Bartholdy in Rome, usually considered a major achievement of the young Nazarenes, had none of the freshness of Spring, he declared, but were rather faded and lifeless, like sparkling water gone flat.32
The late nineteenth century in particular was the heyday of "Renaissancismus," and the Nazarenes had rejected precisely those aspects of the Renaissance that the Age of Nietzsche most admired. Liberal art historians like Muther, Cornelius Gurlitt, Julius Meier-Graefe, and Karl Scheffler all subscribed—as many art historians still do, whether consciously or not33 —to a modernist narrative that began with Vasari, was consecrated by the historical arrangement of the collections in the new art museums founded at the end of the eighteenth century, such as the Louvre in Paris or the Belvedere in Vienna, and finally acquired philosophical authority, thanks to Hegel, in the early nineteenth century.34 According to this narrative, the development of painting since Giotto was inexorably in the direction of ever greater psychological or visual realism and "painterliness," that is, emphasis on the qualities—such as color, movement, light and atmospheric effects, paint texture, and so forth—that distinguish painting from sculpture and drawing.35 In this "Entwicklungsgeschichte" of art, those artists who contributed to the development of "modernity" and the fulfillment of the telos of painting received high marks, those who were perceived as having obstructed or opposed it (not only the Nazarenes, but radically neoclassical artists like Asmus Jacob Carstens) got low marks. Even Jacques-Louis David came in for a good deal of criticism. His ideas were all wrong, and his influence bad, it was said, and he was saved as an artist despite himself, as it were, by his innate painterly instincts, his involvement in the momentous events of his time, and the strength of the painterly tradition in France.36
Since the 1970s, such progressivist "Whig" histories have been challenged, in almost all areas of the humanities.37 Correspondingly, English and French art histories have begun to recognize the existence of the Nazarenes and a small number have been remarkably sympathetic.38 Monographic studies have also begun to make an appearance. The groundbreaking monograph of Keith Andrews has become something of a classic in German art-historical scholarship. Also since the 1970s, there have been exhibitions of German romantic or nineteenth-century art in New Haven, Cleveland, and Chicago (1970–71), Paris (Orangerie des Tuileries, 1976–77), New York (Metropolitan Museum, 1981; Pierpoint Morgan Library, 1988), and most recently London (National Gallery, 2001) and Washington, D.C. (National Gallery, 2001).39 There have even been some recent acquisitions of Nazarene paintings by public galleries in the United Kingdom and the United States.40
Of course, it is not only the Nazarenes, it is German art of the nineteenth century as a whole that was sidelined by the enormous success of Impressionism and the canonical Paris-centered history of modern art that grew up around it—not only in France, Great Britain, and America, but in Germany itself, as nationalist art critics complained and modern scholars acknowledge.41 In the halting process of rediscovery and rehabilitation, however, it has been chiefly those nineteenth-century German artists who "speak" in some degree to our modern sensibility that have achieved modest recognition: Friedrich, startlingly but persuasively compared by Robert Rosenblum to Rothko,42 or Menzel in whose remarkable work the critics of the New York Times and the Washington Post recently perceived and inevitably admired an anticipation of Impressionism.43 (Figs. 17, 18).
Two paintings, oil on board, by Adolph Menzel. Left: Fig. 17. The Balcony Room. 1845. Right: Fig. 18. Théâtre du Gymnase, Paris. 1856. Both in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Alte Nationalgalerie.
In fact, that was already the reading of Menzel proposed by Meier-Graefe on the occasion of the great national exhibition of "German Art 1775–1875" in Berlin in 1906,44 as well as by some nationalist art historians, who apparently decided that instead of attacking Impressionism as un-German, they would serve their ends better by demonstrating that it was actually a German "discovery" that the French had stolen, elaborated, and presented as their own!45 That perverse variant of the history of modern painting accorded well with the standard nationalist view of the Germans as free, inventive, individual geniuses, unspoiled creators of Kultur, and of the French, in contrast, as disciplined producers of Zivilisation, with a particular talent for institutionalizing and disseminating the insights of those more inspired than they.46 All in all, one should not exaggerate the impact of the recent exhibitions or their success in bringing German art, let alone the art of the Nazarenes, into the general public perception of the history of art. There were no lines outside the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. for the Nineteenth-Century German Art exhibition when I visited it at the end of June 2001, and I have not come across any new insights on the part of the newspaper reviewers (whose line, unsurprisingly, was to look for signs of "modernity"). Beyond Germany and Scandinavia, the average gallery-goer still knows very little, if anything at all, of Asmus Jacob Carstens, Otto Runge, Carl Blechen, Hans von Marées, Wilhelm Leibl, Max Slevogt or even Anselm Feuerbach and Lovis Corinth. The Swiss Arnold Böcklin was long the best-known "German" artist of the nineteenth century, largely on account of one work, the celebrated "Isle of the Dead," which achieved popularity through kitschy reproductions. As for the Nazarenes—Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Friedrich and Ferdinand Olivier, Peter Cornelius, Philipp Veit (the step-son of Friedrich Schlegel), to mention only a few—they have still not come back into favor to this day. What they produced, according to the New York Times reviewer of the 2001 show in Washington. D.C., was "dreadful, fancy calendar art" that might at best have a certain "kooky glamor."47
Even an experienced and reputed art historian could hardly expect to initiate a significant revival of interest or a review of such judgments. Tellingly, Andrews' gracefully written and judicious monograph has long been out of print. Our experience as viewers of art and the way our sensibility has been shaped almost guarantee a tepid response to the Nazarenes' conscientious, beautifully balanced, but undramatic compositions, in which movement, physical and psychological, often seems either held in suspension or highly conventionalized.48 With their use of flat local colors and their eschewing of all dramatic light and color effects, the Nazarenes seem to want to deny the materiality of the painting and to direct the viewer's attention instead to more abstract and "spiritual" qualities like line, composition, color harmonies, and, ultimately, moral and religious meaning.
Left: Fig. 19. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Easter Morning. 1818. Oil on canvas. Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf. Right: Fig. 21. Antonio da Correggio, Noli me tangere. 1520s. Oil on canvas. Prado, Madrid.
This is vividly illustrated by Overbeck's and Johann Anton Ramboux's versions of the Noli me Tangere theme, when compared with those by two of the post-Raphaelite artists whose rich painterly manner the Nazarenes consciously rejected—Titian and Correggio (Figs. 19, 20, 21).49 Ramboux in particular appears to have modeled his work on the early German master Martin Schongauer (Fig. 22).
Left: Figure 22. Martin Schongauer. Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen (Noli me tangere). Right: Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen (Noli me tangere). Fig. 20. Johann Anton Ramboux. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
To Franz Pforr, the painter's brushstrokes were "a necessary evil, no more than a means to an end," and he considered it "nonsense to praise an artist's audacity in this area or find something to brag about in it."50 Peter Cornelius, a champion of the flat colors and forms of fresco, declared that "the brush has become the ruin of [the painter's] art. It has led from nature to mannerism."51
In contrast, by the 1840s and 1850s, there was already a considerable emphasis, notably with Menzel, on materiality—both of the texture of the work itself and of what is represented in it—and this tendency continued to gain strength over the course of the century. It is a far cry from the Nazarenes to the stimulating and exciting work of Lovis Corinth, for example, with its intense psychological realism and bold, nervous brushstrokes. In a recent study of the role of Rembrandt as a model for modern German painters, the powerful renditions of biblical themes by Corinth and his contemporary Max Slevogt in the early twentieth century—such as the Return of the Prodigal Son, the Capture of Samson, or the Seduction of Joseph by Potiphar's Wife—are seen as close in spirit and manner to Rembrandt and are contrasted favorably with the formally elegant, more conventional versions of the same themes for a popular Bible in Pictures by the Nazarene artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.52
Left: Fig. 23 Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, The Prodigal Son. Wood engraving in Die Bibel in Bildern, 1852-60. Right: Fig. 24. Max Slevogt, The Return of the Prodigal Son. 1898-99. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.
Where Schnorr, using conventional figures, gestures, and composition, directs the viewer's attention to the spiritual "meaning" of the scenes, the focus of Corinth and Slevogt is on the reality of human experience. The father in Schnorr's Return of the Prodigal Son, for instance (Fig. 23), is clearly an image of God the Father, not a "real" human father, as in the painting on the same theme by the impressionist artist Max Slevogt (Fig. 24).
Similarly, Schnorr's Joseph conforms completely to the Bible narrative; there is no sign that his virtue was ever shaken by the feminine charms of Potiphar's wife (Fig. 25). Corinth, in contrast, tries to communicate the disturbing tumultuousness of a seduction scene (Fig. 26).
From left to right — three versions of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife: by Philipp Veit (Fig. 27), Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Fig. 25), and Lovis Corinth (Fig. 26).
Like Philipp Veit, in his fresco on the same subject at the Casa Bartholdy (Fig. 27), Schnorr allows the viewer to look on the image from the safe distance, as it were, of its meaning. In contrast, Corinth and Slevogt clearly want to draw the viewer into the world of the picture. Schnorr's and Veit's images signify an attempted seduction but do not aim to represent it or recreate in the viewer feelings equivalent to the experience of it. In this important respect, the art of the Nazarenes may now appear prim and insipid to most modern viewers, though some may discern in it characteristics curiously anticipatory of a different, more abstract modernity than that of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German Impressionism.
In addition, it should not be overlooked that Nazarene art was not intended for exhibition in museums and galleries. It was part of the program of the founders of the movement, the original Lukasbrüder or Brothers of St. Luke, to combat the modern transformation of art into a commodity to be enjoyed and displayed by private individuals in their homes or put up for sale in galleries. Art for them was not a de luxe product of consummate artistic technique, it was not an investment or an object of exchange to be bought and sold and transferred at will from one owner and one location to another, nor was it simply a source of pleasure. Like some of the neoclassical artists and theorists of the time—notably Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy in France, who was bold enough to attack Napoleon's policy of pillaging the churches and palaces of Europe in order to build up the Louvre into a repository of world art53 —they believed art at its best had been and should once again become part of the fabric of a community's daily life and an expression of its highest values, inseparably linked to the public building—church, town hall, palace—or the private purpose, such as prayer or remembrance, for which it had been commissioned. Their belief that art is inseparable from the context for which it is designed led them to initiate a revival of fresco painting. Indeed, it was the frescoes they created for the residence of the Prussian consul in Rome, Jacob Salomon Bartholdy, and for the Casino Massimo, the Roman residence of an Italian nobleman, that put them on the map of the art world. In an often quoted letter to Joseph Görres in 1814, Cornelius speculated that through a revival of fresco painting it might be possible to restore the old (and in his view far healthier) relation between art and the people that had obtained in the Middle Ages, so that art, instead of adorning the private chambers of the well-to-do, would once again speak to the German people "from the walls of our high cathedrals, our peaceful chapels and solitary cloisters, from our town halls and warehouses and markets."54 The Nazarenes' work is thus not "at home" in the abstract space of a gallery or museum where it must compete for the viewer's attention with works in many different styles.
The Nazarenes draw one another and their friends
Left: Fig. 28. Johann Friedrich Overbeck and Peter von Cornelius Double Portrait. Pencil drawing. Private collection, Munich. Right: Fig. 29. Rudolph Suhrlandt, Overbeck and Cornelius. Pencil drawing. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
Left: Fig. 30. Johann Ramboux, The Brothers Konrad und Franz Eberhard. 1822. Oil on canvas. Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne Right: Fig. 31. Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Portrait of Franz Horny. Undated. Pen and sepia drawing. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett.
As they were not at first overwhelmed by public and ecclesiastical commissions, the Nazarenes also cultivated a quite different genre from fresco and history painting. Though they produced a relatively small number of commissioned portraits—in line with their view of the proper function of art—they made innumerable drawings (as well as occasional oil paintings) of and for each other, offering them to each other and to their friends as gifts. These small-scale, intimate, and unassuming works testify to a tension between the Nazarenes' goal of restoring the public and educative function of art on the one hand, and, on the other, an inclination to reconceive the public world as an ideal community of friends and artists—a Malerrepublik, as the poet Friedrich Rückert put it—of which the Lukasbund or Brotherhood of St. Luke, the original nucleus of the Nazarene movement, was no doubt the model.55 What was common to both the "public" and the "private" art of the Nazarenes, however, was the demand for absolute authenticity of feeling in the artist and it may well be that this emphasis on inner feeling was better suited to their private than to their public art.
Left: Fig. 32, Carl Philipp Fohr, Portrait of Wilhelm von Schadow. 1818. Pencil drawing. Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg. Right: Fig. 33. Friedrich Olivier, Portrait of Friedrich Overbeck. 1820. Pencil drawing. Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden, Kupferstichkabinett.
Left: Fig. 34. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Portrait of Scheffer von Leonhardshoff. 1819. Pencil drawing. Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, Kupferstichkabinett. Middle: Fig. 35. Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, Overbeck reading a page from Dürer. 1814. Pencil and black chalk on paper. Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden. Kupferstichkabinet. . Right: Fig. 36. Carl Philipp Fohr, Self-portrait. 1816. Pen, blue ink and wash drawing on yellowish paper. Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg.
In the view of some critics at least, their best work is to be found not in the ambitious, full-scale paintings of scenes from the Old and New Testaments for which they are (and wanted to be) best known, but in innumerable smaller, finely contoured portraits, with minimum modeling, which they drew of and for each other, group portraits of two or more friends (Figs. 28—38), and pen and pencil sketches of places they liked to frequent, such as Olevano, a little town in the Alban hills just beyond Palestrina, that seem almost cubist in their stripped down essentiality (Fig. 39).56
Fig. 39. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872). View of Olevano. 1821. Pen and ink drawing. 25.9 x 30.7 cm. Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden. Kupferstichkabinett.
Like the domestic memorials or Zimmerkenotaphe that were popular in Germany at the turn of the century, these small-scale works have nonetheless an important feature in common with the Nazarenes' larger, more obviously public works: they were not made to be exhibited or offered for sale at art salons and galleries.57
Their opposition to the appropriation of the artist's work as the private property of wealthy or powerful individuals also led the Nazarenes seemingly in the opposite direction from that just described, that is, toward the role of illustrators, purveyors of easily reproduced, relatively inexpensive Bilderbibel (Bibles in pictures) and religious images that could be reproduced cheaply for distribution among the people. Modern art lovers, ill-disposed to the use of art in the service of anything, be it a religion or a political cause, suspicious of popular art (except in the sophisticated, avant-garde form of "pop art"), and more likely than not to be put off by conservative Saint-Sulpice-style Catholicism, tend to view these works as kitsch, and there seems not much doubt that the very success of the Nazarenes in this area aggravated the disfavor into which they fell around the middle of the nineteenth century.58 A similar fate befell the many nineteenth-century French artists who devoted their talents to religious painting. As they are hard to accommodate within the canonical evolutionary history of art, they are simply ignored and the question of the artistic quality of their work is not even raised.59 Thus one of the issues the Nazarenes force us to think about is how we are predisposed—by our own culture in general, by the conditions in which we get to view artworks, and by our artistic experience and education—to respond more vigorously and intensely to certain styles than to others. As Charles Eastlake put it in an article in the London Magazine in 1820: "For simplicity, holiness and purity, qualities which are the characteristics of scriptural scenes, no style was better adapted than that of the Germans. This style has little or nothing to do with reality. It diffuses a sort of calm and sacred dream. To censure it for being destitute of colour and light and shade would be ridiculous; such merits would, in fact, destroy its character."60
I hope to show that the Nazarenes were intensely serious artists, who made highly self-conscious choices and thought a great deal about what they were doing and about what they wanted the place of art to be in the modern world. According to our still essentially developmental version of the history of European art, the path they chose proved be a cul-de-sac, at best a by-road in art as it evolved throughout Europe in an age that was more and more avid for new experiences and new sensations and less and less willing, until the revival of symbolism at the end of the century, to look for the "spiritual meaning" traditionally held to lie "behind" appearances. The essential question raised by the Nazarenes is this: Do they, as artists, deserve the fate they have suffered as a result of their refusal to swim with what, in retrospect, has been perceived as the tide? Were they simply bad or mediocre artists, as is quite often suggested? If not, what qualities will a sympathetic viewing allow us to discover and still respect, admire, perhaps even respond to? And what qualities, if any, could conceivably prove significant to living artists, if not now, then at some other time? In grouping them together in a single category as "the Nazarenes," I shall inevitably pay insufficient attention to the differences among them: Overbeck and Pforr, for instance, though they were joined in an intense friendship and shared common purposes and goals, differ significantly in their artistic production,61 as do Overbeck and Cornelius, who were sometimes seen by contemporaries as the Raphael and the Michelangelo of the movement. In general, each of the Nazarene artists—pace Caspar David Friedrich—has distinctive stylistic features, no less than Monet and Sisley, for instance, among the Impressionists.
The Cultural Context of Nazarene Art
In the brief factual account that follows, I shall focus on the cultural (artistic, ideological, social) context in which the Nazarenes developed as young artists, the challenges to which their work was a response, and the goals they hoped to achieve. For a time at least, despite their Christian orientation and their association with the conservative Restoration, the Nazarenes were part of a broader anti-traditional movement in art in the Age of Revolution—a movement that aimed to break radically with the continuity of art since the Renaissance and that was in fact launched by neoclassical artists such as Asmus Jacob Carstens, John Flaxman, and Antonio Canova, not to mention Jacques-Louis David, the most famous.62 In his History of the French Revolution, Jules Michelet makes much of what he calls the "religion" of the Revolution, emphasizing that it required something like an act of conversion on the part of its adherents. In the Nazarenes' case, revolutionary impulse and impulse toward conversion are similarly connected as a desire to transform the individual and to transform culture itself, to begin anew—in their case, as in that of the neoclassical artists, by reconnecting with an earlier past. The role conversion played in the lives of many of them, including Friedrich Overbeck, Wilhelm Schadow, Franz and Johannes Riepenhausen, Johannes and Philipp Veit (the two sons of Dorothea Schlegel), and Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel themselves, all of whom converted to Catholicism, is well documented. Rebirth, resurrection, being reawakened from deathly sleep are likewise recurrent themes of their art (for example, the story of Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus).63 In contrast, their slightly older contemporary Benjamin Constant, writing from the point of view of liberal progressivism, denounced the futility of attempts—such as were made by the Jacobins during the Revolution or proposed by Novalis in his Die Christenheit oder Europa—to reverse the flow of history and resurrect a political order that may have been appropriate to another, remote time but, according to Constant, was anachronistic or "unzeitgemäss" (to borrow the term made famous by Nietzsche) in the thoroughly altered conditions of modern Europe.
Though the order they wished to revive in place of the ancien régime was certainly different from that of the Jacobins and their emphasis was, in any case, far more on inner conversion than on institutional change—in that regard they resembled many other, often mutually competing groups in Germany, including neohumanists and Pietists64 —the Nazarenes were similarly faulted for being unmodern. A genuine work of art, according to Caspar David Friedrich, must carry "das Gepräge seiner Zeit" ("the imprint of its time"). In Friedrich's view, this ruled out the use of traditional religious images and forms from an earlier time, since it was the character of the new age to be "am Rande aller Religionen" ("at the outer boundary of all religions"). The days of the glory of the Temple and its servants had passed, Friedrich insisted, and from the fragments of that shattered whole, a new time and a new demand for clarity and truth had emerged.65
The archaism of the Nazarenes was nevertheless itself a response to the very historical fissure Friedrich was evoking, for the deliberate choice of a style that is no longer a living tradition can only be an acutely modern gesture, in that it asserts the artist's refusal to be determined by history and tradition, as well as his freedom (whether desired, struggled for, and won; or imposed and suffered) to select and define the style he wants. That is the real root of the much-decried intellectualism of the Nazarenes. If their art was Gedankenmalerei ("painting of ideas"), that was in part because the artistic tradition as it had evolved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was no longer accepted by them unthinkingly as natural, an inheritance to be assumed and enhanced. When Overbeck claimed that "it is no less impossible to conceive of a fully developed artist who is unphilosophical than it is to conceive of one who lacks poetic imagination,"66 what he meant was not simply that the artist aspires to convey religious or moral or political ideas but that, at a time when so much that had once appeared to be "natural" was being called into question, an authentic modern artist could not afford not to reflect on the form and function of his work. In the words of a modern Italian scholar: "The Nazarenes are the first manifestation of a historical disorientation, in which reference to a style from the past, albeit in the illusory conviction of fidelity to it, exposes, by its arbitrariness, a historical fissure, a radical a-historicity."67 In this respect, the Nazarenes may well have been far more modern than the Belgian school of history painters, whose enormous success in Germany in the early 1840s precipitated the Nazarenes’ fall into disfavor. Indeed, insofar as "modern" signifies a certain relation to the past—its transcendence, but also its culmination—the historical situation of the Nazarenes might even be more usefully viewed as analogous to the post-modern.
The Early Nazarenes and the Vienna Academy
First, then, who were the Nazarenes? The nucleus of the movement was a group of six young men, students at the Vienna Academy of Art in the years 1805–10. Dissatisfied with the teaching they were receiving there, they dreamed of a reform of art based on a return to the older models—notably Dürer and the early Raphael—lauded by Wilhelm Wackenroder in his enormously influential Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (1797). They also envisioned a new relation between art and the community, in which the artist would express the highest values of his people, serving it as a guide and educator, instead of prostituting his God-given talents, as the young rebels saw it, by pandering to the pleasures and vanities of wealthy individuals or a cosmopolitan court aristocracy. It is worth recalling that similar speculations about the role of the artist and the place of art in society—admittedly with a more Enlightenment-humanitarian than romantic-popular emphasis—had characterized the neohumanist generation preceding the Nazarenes, achieving memorable literary expression in Friedrich Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (1795). Schiller's vision of the educative and harmonizing function of art had, in turn, been given pictorial representation in one of the most popular paintings of the age, Apollo among the Shepherds (1806–08) (Fig. 40), by the poet's fellow Württemberger, the neoclassical painter Gottlieb Schick, who was among the first artists to befriend the young Nazarenes on their arrival in Rome in 1810.68
(Fig. 40): Gottlieb Schick, Apollo among the shepherds. 1808. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.
The two founders of the Vienna student group were Johann Friedrich Overbeck, son of a senator from the old Hanseatic free city of Lübeck and later its Bürgermeister, and Franz Pforr, a member of a family of painters, from the imperial free city of Frankfurt am Main. (His father had been a respected animal painter; his mother was the sister of Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Younger.) On the basis of their common view of art—as well as intimate conversations about the ideal female partner each envisaged—the two extremely moral and chaste young men formed an intense friendship of a kind not uncommon in Germany at the time. (One thinks of Wilhelm Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck, Heinrich Füssli and Johann Kaspar Lavater, Johannes von Müller and Charles-Victor de Bonstetten, Ferdinand Olivier and Wilhelm von Gerlach or Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.69 ) In contravention of the rules of the Academy, which required a long period of copying established works in a variety of genres before the student was permitted to undertake original work, the two youthful enthusiasts worked together privately at developing their own ideas for paintings, mostly Biblical scenes in Overbeck's case, scenes from history, legend, Shakespeare, and Goethe in Pforr's. In long, nocturnal discussions, they critiqued each other's work and exchanged ideas about art and modern life, as well as about more personal matters. Both stated explicitly that it was never their intention to proselytize among the students of the Academy but only to extend the hand of friendship to any who might approach them of their own free will. This ideal of unregimented cooperation—in the sense that in the pursuit of common goals, each individual could retain his or her autonomy—would remain important to the Nazarenes and is expressed formally in their work.
Four others at the Vienna Academy soon associated themselves with Pforr and Overbeck. They were: Joseph Wintergerst, a Swabian; Joseph Sutter, an Austrian; Ludwig Vogel, the son of a master baker in Zurich; and his friend, Johann Konrad Hottinger, with whose family, citizens of Zurich settled in Vienna, Vogel had taken lodgings. The group thus represented a cross-section of German youth from various cities and states. Sutter and Wintergerst, aged twenty-seven and twenty-five respectively, were the oldest. The other four were very young when all six first began to gather for regular drawing sessions and discussions in Overbeck's lodgings in the summer of 1808. Overbeck had just turned nineteen; Pforr, Vogel, and Hottinger were a year older. In 1809, on the first anniversary of their meetings, the six agreed to regularize their association by solemnly swearing an oath of brotherhood and forming a Bund, to which they gave the name of Luke, the patron saint of painting. They thereby affirmed an essential, at once conservative and revolutionary axiom of their program: namely, that art must serve only the highest of ends, which, in their case, meant religion, and not the vanity of courts or wealthy individuals. In forming an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society, whose members were bound together by swearing an oath rather than by the invisible bonds of tradition and history, they also executed a revolutionary gesture. For oath swearing, whether by medieval Swiss heroes or members of the French Revolutionary Assembly, whether in favor of a return to the old or of an advance toward the new, inevitably implied rejection of established ways.70 At the same time, by modeling their society on a medieval guild or even a monastic order, they affirmed a specific relation to history, viewing it not as a continuous evolution but as discontinuous, marked by breaks and repetitions. The simultaneously revolutionary and backward-looking character of their artistic principles was thus reflected in the institutional form of their new association.
Fig. 41. Overbeck’s Stamp of the Brotherhood of St. Luke (Lukasbund)
A few months later, in October 1809, when Wintergerst had to move to Bavaria and thus became the group's first "apostle," Overbeck created a diploma for him as well as for the five other members of the Bund. It bore the signature, brief motto, and particular symbol of each one (an owl for Wintergerst, an eye for Sutter, a skull topped by a cross for Pforr, a palm branch for Overbeck, and so on), together with a stamp depicting St. Luke (to whom Overbeck gave the features associated with Dante) at work and inscribed with the initials of the six founding members in its border, which had the form of an arch. At the top of the arch stood the letter W, for Wahrheit, Truth, the fundamental principle of any art worthy of the name, according to the Brotherhood. Canvases by individual members that won the approval of the entire group were to be stamped on the back with this seal (Fig. 41).
Meantime, the occupation of Vienna by the French in early 1809 led to the closing of the Academy. When it reopened in February 1810, financial constraints and a shortage of wood for heating prevented the readmission of all foreign—that is, non-Austrian—students. This provided a good excuse for Overbeck and Pforr to realize a plan they had been mulling over for some time: namely, withdrawing from the Academy, with its highly regulated instruction in current artistic practices, and pursuing their artistic vocation freely, according to their own lights in Rome, where, as they saw it, the fashions and customs of the day paled before the enduring truths of art and religion. Vogel and Hottinger joined them in the move to Rome; Sutter, as a native Austrian the only one of the group to be readmitted to the Academy, did not have the funds to go along.
The departure of the Lukasbrüder for Rome has been referred to as the first Sezession in the history of German art.71 In fact, the leave-taking was carried out politely, courtesy visits being paid to most of the professors. But a year later in 1811, Sutter had a bitter run-in with his teachers, in which he accused them of having turned down a work he had submitted for a prize (he badly needed the money) not on the basis of the merits of the work but out of hostility to the artistic goals of the Brotherhood.72
The goals of the Academy and those of the Lukasbrüder were in fact radically opposed. The Vienna Academy, it should be noted, was among the most highly regarded in Germany at the time. Its director, Heinrich Füger, enjoyed a considerable reputation and had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Admiral Nelson. Füger followed an eclectic line, inclining toward the classicizing manner of Anton Raphael Mengs or Gavin Hamilton in his history paintings, mostly on subjects from Greek and Roman antiquity, while favoring a highly painterly, still visibly rococo handling of color and light in his portraits. The method of instruction at the Academy was traditional: a long period of training in drawing and copying from other artists was required before students could undertake independent original compositions. In Füger's words, the student "must first practice his hand and appropriate the techniques of several graphic styles before he can pass on to painting and the higher branches of the painter's art" and "these preliminary exercises may occupy him for several years."73 Two decades of political, social, and cultural upheaval had had their effect, however, and Overbeck and Pforr rejected Director Füger's academic ancien régime.
As early as 1805, when still a sixteen-year-old living at home in Lübeck, Overbeck already had misgivings about the instruction he was receiving from his art teacher at the time, Joseph Nikolaus Peroux. Though Peroux had great talent, the young Overbeck confided to the writer and critic August Kestner—a family friend who had introduced him to the Riepenhausen brothers' drawings of works by Giotto, Masaccio, and Perugino—he concentrated so much on brilliance of execution that he was incapable of imagining anything artistically serious. "His manner appears thoroughly false to me," Overbeck wrote, adding that he feared having to follow this "kleinliche Manier" ("trivializing manner") and becoming in turn enslaved to it.74
It had been fifteen years since Kant had argued for the autonomy of art and, by implication, the artist.75 In 1796, the unconventional neoclassical artist, Asmus Jacob Carstens—to whom Overbeck's father, a poet as well as a Lübeck notable, had lent a helping hand at a difficult time in the artist's life in the 1780s—had proclaimed the freedom of the artist in a stinging letter to the director of the Berlin Academy: "I must inform your Excellency that I do not belong to the Berlin Academy but to humanity. It never occurred to me, nor did I ever promise, to debase myself into becoming the bondsman of an academy for the sake of a few years' financial support that would enable me to develop my talents."76 A few years before, in 1791, another neoclassical artist, Joseph Anton Koch, had fled the art academy of the famous Ducal Hohe Carlsschule in Stuttgart after the discovery of some caricatures in which he exposed the professors as cruel tyrants and lampooned the content of their instruction. One of the drawings depicts the artist, like Hercules at the Crossroads, having to choose between the extravagance of the rococo and the simplicity of the classical (Fig. 42).
Fig. 42. Joseph Anton Koch. The Painter at the Crossroads. 1791. Lost drawing. Formerly Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart. Graphische Sammlung.
Koch, a fiery champion of freedom and the French Revolution, later became a good friend and collaborator of the Nazarenes in Rome and Vienna. The young Overbeck, whose birth in 1789 coincided with the outbreak of the Revolution, was no less inspired by the idea of freedom than Carstens, Koch, or, for that matter, Caspar David Friedrich. "The most important thing for a painter," he wrote to Kestner, "is to have a free hand."77
As a student at the Vienna Academy, Overbeck had not lost his taste for freedom. Here is how he justified to his father his and Pforr's breaking of the Academy's rules by embarking on compositions of their own in oil as early as their second year: "Must it really be so harmful to test one's capabilities, even when one undertakes tasks that are beyond one's capabilities? And in the event that one stumbles and falls, so what? One picks oneself up again. One doesn't break one's neck; and at least one will have taken the measure of one's capabilities." The aim of his and Pforr's experiments with work of their own was "not to produce masterpieces, just to push ourselves to the limit and do the best we can." For one "learns more from working on a single picture of one's own, however much one has to suffer before achieving something acceptable, than from copying twenty pictures, even pictures by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Van Dyck, et al." Besides, "by exercising one's own talent, one arrives at a fuller appreciation of the achievement of the great masters, and discovers ten times more in them than if one had spent all one's time slavishly copying them." Most important, the student who experiments with compositions of his own will develop his own individual talent. Speaking for himself, Overbeck insisted, even if he doesn't "learn to use paint like a Titian, or become as expert in chiaroscuro as a Correggio, the most important thing is that he become an Overbeck" and "that would be worth far more, by Heaven, than being able to call oneself a second Raphael or a second Correggio or such like." The example of Giulio Romano "who cannot be placed in the top rank of painters because he always more or less imitated the style of Raphael" demonstrated the inadequacy of imitation as a method of instruction. These words of Overbeck's are worth emphasizing in view of the later criticism--from Caspar David Friedrich, Vischer, Heine, and others-- that the Nazarenes had no character or style of their own but simply copied earlier masters like Raphael and Dürer. Overbeck conceded that sustained study and indeed copying of the masters developed both the student's taste and his skills. "One would need to be a fool not to exploit this advantage, which we artists of the present time enjoy with respect to our predecessors." Still, the true model, he told his father, is nature. "Just think how much time is lost learning the 'tricks of the trade,' to quote your own expression, since these are unique to each great master." (Howitt 1.68–69). Above all, the eclecticism of the academies
is a complete misunderstanding of art. Anyone who expects a young artist to make every effort to learn to compose like Raphael, because Raphael was greatest of all in composition, to learn to paint like Titian, because Titian was the greatest master of paint, to learn to use light and shade like Correggio, because Correggio was unrivaled in the use of chiaroscuro, to appropriate Michelangelo's style, because of its grandeur and power, and furthermore, to combine all of those qualities in himself, shows that he understands nothing about art, since he has not understood that those qualities so contradict each other that it is not possible to think of them all together…Take a figure from Michelangelo, paint it in the manner of Titian, and you will no longer have a Buonarotti. The external contour would not work with the inner flesh tones that Titian would have to introduce if he were to paint like Titian. [Howitt 1.68–69]
Two months later, in another letter to his father, dated 27 April 1808, Overbeck generalized his critique of art academies: "The slavish kind of study required at our art academies leads to nothing of any value. If—as I believe is the case—there has not been a history painter since the time of Raphael who has found the right road, that is nobody's fault but that of our leading academies; they teach you to paint wonderful draperies, to draw figures correctly, to use perspective, they teach you the styles of architecture; and yet all this produces no great painters" (Howitt, 1.71). The Lukasbund did not intend to repeat the errors of the ancien régime at the Vienna Academy. No single style was imposed, both Overbeck and Pforr insisted, no one was urged to imitate another's manner: instead, each individual was encouraged to follow his own bent and talent in the pursuit of their common goals. What these young artists dreamed of founding in Rome, two decades after the French Revolution, was a free community of artists, "eine Künstlerrepublik," in Overbeck's words (Howitt 1886, 1.82–83).
For his part, Franz Pforr explained to his guardian, the Frankfurt merchant Sarasin, that technical skill was not enough to make a good artist. "We get together every evening," he wrote, describing the close friendship he had established with Overbeck, "and discuss art. To my friend's concern with virtue and morality I owe my conviction that, to achieve greatness, a painter must be not only an artist but a human being…We found that our [earlier] approach to art no longer seemed satisfactory to us, and that the work we had been producing no longer gave us the pleasure our innermost being now demanded of a work of art." At the reopened Imperial art collection in the Belvedere Palace, the two friends noted a similar revolution in their judgments of earlier works of art.
As we entered, I can truly say that we were stunned. Everything now seemed different. We hurried past a large number of paintings, which we had previously admired, with a feeling of dissatisfaction; other works, in contrast, which had formerly left us cold, now drew us irresistibly. Neither of us dared to reveal his thoughts to the other for fear that his judgment had been affected by vanity or pretentiousness. Finally, we opened our hearts and discovered to our amazement that we had been thinking the same thoughts. Works by Tintoretto, Veronese, Maratti, even many by the Caracci, Correggio, Guido, and Titian that had once filled us with admiration, now made a feeble impression on us. It seemed to us that a cold heart lay behind their bold brushstrokes and striking color effects and that the painter's highest aim had been to excite a voluptuous sensibility. In contrast, we could hardly tear ourselves away from a…Pordenone, some works by Michelangelo and Perugino and a painting from the school of Raphael…. The painters of the Dutch school seemed to us to have chosen unworthy subjects or to have treated noble ones in a vulgar way. What we once took to be nature in them, now seemed like caricature. As we hurried from there to the German school, how pleasantly surprised we were; with what purity and charm the latter seemed to speak to us! Much here had once struck us as stiff and forced, but now we had to recognize that our judgment had been distorted by familiarity with paintings in which every artistic technique, however common, had been exaggerated to the point of ridiculous affectation, and that as a result we had taken gestures, which were drawn from nature as she truly is, to be stiff and lacking in appropriate movement. Their noble simplicity ['edle Einfalt'] spoke directly to our hearts. [Howitt 1.82-83]
The unmistakable allusion here to Johann Joachim Winckelmann in connection with fifteenth century German painting, an allusion that turns up again in a letter from Pforr to David Passavant—painter, apprentice banker, future art historian, and close childhood friend of Pforr's—is remarkable as a sign not only of the Nazarenes' reinterpretation of Winckelmann's neoclassical ideal, but also, and perhaps more important, as a sign of the common ground shared by the seemingly opposed positions of late eighteenth-century neoclassicism and early nineteenth-century German PreRaphaelism.83 Both were sharply critical of the painting practices of the baroque and the rococo. "There were no bravura brushstrokes here," Pforr continued,"there was no attempt on the artist's part to impress the viewer with the boldness of his technique; everything was simply there as though it had not been painted but had simply grown."84
In 1820, twelve years after Pforr's death, his and Overbeck's critique of academies was taken up in a long section of the vigorous defense of the Nazarenes' goals and achievements with which David Passavant responded to the highly publicized critique by Goethe and his friend Heinrich Meyer of what they dubbed dismissively "neudeutsche religiös-patriotische Kunst" (1817).85 It was only much later, after most of the rebellious energy of the early Lukasbrüder had been spent and their idealizing art had achieved a kind of official status, that they themselves became directors of the institutions—academies and museums—they had once derided. In sum, to speak in connection with the Lukasbrüder of a Sezession is somewhat dramatic, but not essentially false.86
There were differences, of course, between the neoclassical artists and the Nazarenes. The former tended to accept the Kantian view of the autonomy of art. Beauty, for them (as, still, for Burckhardt), was its own end, and the work of art served no purpose other than itself. Following Schiller's lead, many did, however, look to art as a means of reconciling philosophical oppositions, harmonizing social and psychological conflicts, rehumanizing men at a time of increasing specialization and division of labor, and bringing peace and order to society. The Nazarenes wanted the artist to be freed from subservience to courts and powerful patrons. But they did not argue for the total autonomy of art. Perhaps they suspected that the autonomy of art might not be unrelated to the rising influence of the art market, on which Denis Diderot had commented astutely in the decades before the French Revolution.87 The decline of traditional sources of patronage, accelerated by the Revolution, had certainly given artists greater freedom but it had also made their social situation acutely problematical by depriving them both of whatever economic security they had once enjoyed and of a clear function and direction for their work88 —save perhaps in France, where the revolutionary state awarded commissions and prescribed programs. The early Nazarenes responded to this crisis by trying, in the Lukasbund, to constitute an artistic community similar to the artist guilds of the Middle Ages. The aim of the community was twofold: first, to provide support for artists who would otherwise find themselves isolated, insecure, and at the mercy of unfavorable circumstances; and second, to restore art to its proper high place in the world by ascribing to it the mission of transforming culture and society.89 Art, it was hoped, would once again become a vital part of the life, not of a court, nor of an abstract humanity (epitomized by the universal norms of classical art), but of a particular, concrete, historical community (epitomized by the Christian art of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance), articulating and disseminating the highest values of that community—its morality and its religion. In the event, of course, the German artists in Rome did not succeed in escaping the destiny of the modern artist as "free" agent. By withdrawing from the world in order, as Overbeck put it, to save their art—"Oh, the sweetness of solitude and seclusion from the world; only in such conditions is it possible for art to thrive nowadays," he noted in his journal90 — the Nazarenes created, in the end, not an artists' guild but something much closer to an artistic Bohemia, the center of which, in the Eternal City, was no church or convent, but the crowded, smoke-filled Caffè Greco on the via Condotti.
Fig. 67. Carl Philipp Fohr. Caffè Greco. 1818. Pencil sketch. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main. Several of the artists are identified on details linked to the full size plate.
The Nazarene Sezession in Artistic Context
It is necessary to say a word about the artistic context in which Overbeck and Pforr led their quiet mutiny at the Vienna Academy in 1806. The young Germans' rejection of academic norms was part of a revolutionary Europe-wide break with the ancien régime baroque style, which subordinated all the elements of a picture to the production of an overriding and overpowering illusionist effect. The break began somewhat hesitantly with Winckelmann, Mengs, and the Scottish painter Gavin Hamilton in Rome in the middle decades of the eighteenth century and became more radical with Flaxman in England and David and his school in France.
In his wonderful New York University doctoral dissertation of a half-century ago, "The International Style 1800," Robert Rosenblum showed how an entire generation of artists aimed to get back to fundamentals by re-emphasizing the maker's unmediated vision in the creation of a work rather than the technical skill with which the academically trained artist recreated and confirmed conventional empirical perceptions of the world. Technique even came to be regarded with suspicion as the handmaid of illusionist painting and the mark of the artist's subservience to powerful clients, who dictated his subjects to him and used him to represent the world as they wanted it to be seen. Sometimes, as with Asmus Carstens, a virtue was even made of the lack of it. No sensible person, Blake wrote, "ever supposes that copying from Nature is the Art of Painting; if Art is no more than this, it is no more than any other Manual Labour; anybody may do it and the fool often will do it best as it is a work of no Mind."91 Likewise, Caspar David Friedrich: "A painter should paint not only what he sees in front of him, but what he sees within. If he sees nothing within himself, he should desist from painting what he sees in front of him."92 To the Nazarenes, purity of mind and soul were essential prerequisites for the production of any art that aimed to be more than pleasing or flattering ornament.
Many artists chose to demonstrate their contention that the artist's vision and not painterly technique in the service of illusionist effect is the essential element in a work of art by placing the subject parallel to the surface of the painting and thus provocatively signaling their refusal to produce the illusion of depth and therefore of reality that was the crowning achievement of painterly technique. In drawing, contour and line were emphasized—that is to say, the most abstract and ideal aspects of art—with a minimum of modeling. The Nazarenes, in particular, preferred hard pencil to chalk. Color was considered secondary and was always subordinate to line. In the painting of the Nazarenes, color is always local color. Though Pforr and Overbeck developed a theory of color symbolism and used color as an integral element of their compositions, a few, like Carstens and, in his later life, Cornelius, tended to avoid color altogether. The goal was to reveal the essential truth of things as perceived by the artist's imagination—Wahrheit, it will be remembered, was the Nazarenes' motto—rather than to reproduce or enhance the sensuous pleasure produced by external appearance. Even where elements of depth are retained, there is a clear effort to represent the essential forms of things rather than their passing appearances, as in the almost cubist landscapes and townscapes of Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier (Fig. 43).
Fig. 43. Ferdinand Olivier, Quarry in Vienna-Matzleindorf. 1814-15. Pen drawing. Courtesy of Albertina, Vienna.
As a modern scholar noted, it was the "rejection of traditionally life-like drawing" in the stylized, stripped-down illustrations of the English artist and sculptor John Flaxman that had appealed to the philosophical mentor of the Nazarenes, Friedrich Schlegel.93 In this idealizing emphasis on line and surface, in opposition to the illusion of depth produced by modeling, chiaroscuro, and subtle paint transitions, neoclassical artists and Nazarenes were at one. It was Winckelmann, after all, who had declared, "in the figures of the ancient Greeks, the noblest outline embraces or circumscribes all aspects of natural and ideal beauty."94
To this movement in art corresponded a similar movement in music. In the debate about the relative value of melody and harmony in the second half of the eighteenth century—the Querelle des Bouffons or Querelle de la musique française et de la musique italienne—the defenders of harmony explicitly compared harmony in music to color and chiaroscuro in the visual arts,95 while the champions of melody, foremost among them Jean-Jacques Rousseau, saw in melody, the pure succession of simple notes, the very essence of music—music as it was before its corruption by the ever greater refinements of harmony. To Diderot—consistently materialist—harmony was an integral part of musical language and, like color and chiaroscuro in painting, a technical instrument that the artist sensitive to the complexity of nature could not do without; to Rousseau, with his strong idealist tendencies, it was melody that was the primary musical language, the language that reflected not external nature but the innermost feelings and intuitions of the human soul. Even historical writing shows signs of an aspiration to return to basics. In the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, a new school of historians in France, led by Prosper de Barante and Augustin Thierry, rejected the sophistication of "philosophical" history and advocated a return to the simple narrative line of the late medieval chroniclers.96
It is impossible to mistake the connection between these various calls for a return to the simpler, purer forms of an earlier era and the revolutionary project announced in the opening page of Rousseau's Preface to his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality of 1755, with its explicit allusion to Plato's Republic: "How shall man contrive to see himself as nature formed him, through all the changes that the succession of times and things must have wrought in his original constitution; how shall he separate out what belongs to his very being from the additions or changes made to his primitive condition by circumstance and his own progress? Like the statue of Glaucus, so disfigured by time, sea water, and storms that it resembled a wild beast rather than a god, the human soul, degraded in the womb of society by a thousand continually renewed influences, by the acquisition of a vast quantity of knowledge and error, by changes in the constitution of bodies, and by the continual impact of the passions has, so to speak, so altered its appearance that it has become almost unrecognizable."
Rosenblum presents the gist of his thesis in his opening remarks on the English artist, sculptor, and illustrator John Flaxman, whose reputation and influence in France and in Germany reached a high point—and it was very high, especially in Germany—at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. "Flaxman's drawing," Rosenblum writes,
completely eschews the intricate formal vocabulary evolved by previous generations in their attempt to render the subtleties of optical experience. Favoring an art of radically reduced means, it seems to reject consciously that rich variety of spatial, luminary, and atmospheric values which post-medieval painting had achieved…. Tendencies towards oblique movement are rigorously avoided, so that figures are seen in either strictly frontal postures…or in profile. At all costs, the illusion of three-dimensionality is minimized. Even the pedestals on which…statues rest are drawn as rectangles, not cubes, so that no suggestion of depth may intrude…. One may well speak of a willful effort to efface the complexities of style and expression which Western art had attained by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Preceded by a period which had reached a maximum of facility in the recording of the most transient and subtle images of the optically perceived world, Flaxman's drawing would seem to substitute a conceptual, linear art, founded upon basic symbols of reality rather than upon illusions of it, an art whose severity of means and expression suggests a pure and early phase of image-making."97
Two of John Flaxman’s illustrations that emphasize line. Left: Fig. 45. Departure of Briseis. The Iliad. 1795. Right: Fig. 44. The Active Good. Dante’s Paradiso. 1793.
The immense success of Flaxman's illustrations of Homer and Dante was matched by that of Canova's and Bertel Thorvaldsen’s sculptural renditions of classical themes (Figs. 44-47).
Left: Fig. 46. Antonio Canova. The Departure of Briseis. 1787-90. Museo Gypoteca Antonio Canova, Possagno. Right: Fig. 47. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Briseis and Achilles. 1803. Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen.
In publications containing illustrations of Greek vase paintings or of works by Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Orcagna, and other early Italian painters, which were also popular, linearity was thrown into even greater relief by their reproduction in the form of engravings (Fig. 48).
Fig. 48. Luca Spinello Aretino, The Annunciation and the Gifts of the Magi from Alexis-François Artaud de Montor’s Peintres primitifs. Click here for another engraving from the same work: The Death of Lucretia by Andrea di Cione di Arcangelo, known as Orcagna.
There was in fact considerable interest in Italian artists before Raphael—they were not yet known as "Primitives"98—in artistic circles as well as in the general public. Flaxman, David, and Ingres were among those who studied them attentively and with respect. Vivant Denon, appointed director of the Louvre by Napoleon, complained that the fifteenth century had been "négligé par les dissertateurs et les compilateurs" (as he described eighteenth-century writers on the fine arts) and he made amends by devoting generous space in the new museum to Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Perugino.99 There was a corresponding revival of interest in early Flemish and German painting, especially, naturally enough, in Germany.100 Even Goethe—notoriously hostile to what he decried as the "retrograde" character of the "modern German religious-patriotic school"—was astonished when he saw the art works collected by the Boisserée brothers.101 Rosenblum makes the important point that interest in early Italian painting "evidenced the same seeking out of artistic processes which motivated the interest in antique art…Giotto and Masaccio corresponded, in their frieze-like disposition of figures within a relatively shallow space and in their monumental treatment of the human form, to the comparable formal groupings of the reformers Hamilton, Vien, Greuze, West, and Mengs."102
Fig. 49. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872). Copy of drawing by Flaxman in Umrisse zu Homers Iliad und Odyssee nach dem englischen Originale gezeichnet (Leipzig: Joachim Göschen, 1803-1804
It is not surprising, therefore, that the earliest artistic efforts of one of the leading Nazarenes, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (he was not yet ten years of age), executed under the supervision of his father, the painter Veit Schnorr von Carolsfeld, were direct copies of Flaxman or in the highly linear style of the English artist (Fig. 49). Even Schnorr's mature work, such as his designs for the decoration of the Residenz in Munich (1830s), is characterized by a mingling of classical, Renaissance, and medieval formal elements. It is not surprising either that Paillot de Montabert, author of a Dissertation sur les peintures du moyen âge et sur celles qu'on a appelées Gothiques (1812), in which he argued that medieval painting was not the negation of the antique but preserved its greatest virtue, that is, an unmistakably Winckelmannian "disposition noble, simple et une"103 — emerged from the studio of David and that he was closely associated with a group of radical artists, also from David's studio, known as "Les Primitifs" or "Les Barbus" because of their provocative renunciation of modern ways in both art and life. (They allowed their beards to grow, adopted loose-fitting Greek dress and open sandals, and espoused vegetarianism.) Like the Lukasbrüder, les barbus believed that the inner transformation or conversion of the artist himself was a necessary prerequisite for the reform of art. Though virtually nothing of their work survives, they are known to have accused David of having failed to free himself sufficiently from the despised and decadent rococo.104
Two marble reliefs by Antonio Canova in the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, both 1821-22. Left: Fig. 50. The Annunciation.. Right: Fig. 51. The Creation of Adam.
Given this background, it is easier to understand why, despite the ridicule they provoked in some circles, the Lukasbrüder won the sympathy of important members of the artistic community in Rome, in particular, of leading representatives of the neoclassical movement: the sculptors Thorvaldsen and Canova (who later commissioned them to help decorate the lunettes of the Galleria Chiaramonte in the Vatican105 ) and three prominent German painters who had studied with David in Paris—Gottlieb Schick, Joseph Anton Koch, and Eberhard Wächter. “We were visited in Rome,” Ludwig Vogel reports, “by Thorvaldsen, Schick and other leading artists in the most friendly way and they encouraged us to continue on the path we had set out on and to remain true to ourselves.”106 All these artists, in fact, worked with Christian as well as classical themes and were familiar with the early Italian painting that inspired the Nazarenes.
Fig. 52. Joseph Anton Koch. Landscape with the Sacrifice of Noah. c. 1803. Oil on canvas. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main.
Koch, for instance, copied Giotto’s panel painting of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata in the church of St. Francis in Assisi (before it was removed under Napoleon to the Louvre), produced a drawing of a Madonna with child, angels and saints in the style of the early Raphael, introduced Biblical figures (The Sacrifice of Noah (Fig. 52), Abraham’s expulsion of Hagar, Ruth and Boaz, Rebecca and Eliezar at the well) into his landscapes, and modeled one painting, Abraham and the Three Angels, on scenes from the Old Testament by the fifteenth-century painter Benozzo Gozzoli, whose work he had admired and sketched in the Campo Santo in Pisa.
Two drawings by Joseph Anton Koch. Left: Fig. 53. Abraham Receives the Three Angels. c. 1807. Private collection, Munich. Fig. 54. Right: Enthroned Madonna with angels and saints. Pen and pencil on light brown paper. Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Kupferstichkabinett, Vienna. See also his drawings on themes from Old and New Testament, 1805-10, in the Tiroler Landesmusem Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck.
Left: Fig. 58. Eberhard von Wächter. Job and his Friends. Oil on canvas. Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart. Right: Fig. 55. Joseph Anton Koch. God shows Abraham the Promised Land. 1805-10. Pen and pencil drawing. Tiroler Landesmusem Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck.
In a letter to the Austrian Nazarene artist Gebhard Flatz in 1830, Overbeck himself acknowledged “how deeply indebted our newly awakened German art is to the master artist Koch.”107. (Figs. 52-55, 58)
Two religious works by Gottlieb Schick: Left: Fig. 56. Christ in a Dream sees the Cross. Right: Fig. 57. Noah’s Sacrifice.
Schick also produced paintings and drawings illustrative of the Old and New Testaments (Figs. 56-57). It is not surprising that, as of 1817, Koch began attending the Sunday gatherings of the Nazarenes in Rome, or that Philipp Veit and Carl Philipp Fohr, both loyal Lukasbrüder, made portraits of him as well as of their fellow-Nazarenes.
Two classical works by Peter von Cornelius: Left: Fig. 59. Athena Teaching the Women to Weave. 1807-08. Courtesy of the Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf. Right (Fig. 60): Prometheus as Creator of Man. 1829-30. Charcoal drawing. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
In his turn, Peter von Cornelius worked from time to time with classical themes, as in his Athena Teaching the Women to Weave or Prometheus as Creator of Man while Philipp Veit found inspiration in Greek vase painting for his decoration of a room dedicated to classical sculpture in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt.
Figure 61. Philipp Veit. Athena with Penelope weaving. 1833-36. Pen drawing, with water colors. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main. Graphische Sammlung.
In his younger days, even Overbeck illustrated classical legends (Figs. 59-62).108
Figure 62. Odysseus arrives in Ithaca. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. 1807. Pen and chalk. Museen für Kunst und Kulturgeschicte der Hansestadt Lübeck.
The Nazarenes in Rome
When four members of the Bund arrived in Rome in the summer of 1810, they found temporary lodgings with the help of a compatriot of Vogel's, the Zurich sculptor Heinrich Keller and his Italian wife, in the Villa Malta, a favorite haunt of German travelers, including Goethe. "From my window," Overbeck wrote to Sutter, "I can see the Pantheon, the Antonine and Trajan columns, and a crown of villas on the surrounding hills. From the upper rooms, where the others are lodged, you can see St. Peter's, the Vatican, the Capitol, the palaces of the Popes and the high hills around Tivoli and Frascati" (Howitt, 1.157; see also 1.143). By the fall of the same year, however, the Brothers had to move out, the Villa Malta having acquired a new owner. Fortunately they found inexpensive accommodations, still on the Pincio, in the disused convent of San Isidoro, whose Irish Franciscan occupants had been expelled by Napoleon. For two years, they lived a monastic existence there, each with a small cell to work in and a smaller one for sleeping. They took their frugal midday meal, which they prepared themselves, together. "God grant that I may live all my life as I do now," Overbeck wrote in his diary on 31 October 1810. "I would never desire more than a patriarchal meal of porridge or some tasty and healthy vegetable, neither stews nor pastries nor any other spice than salt, for the face of a friend is a better spice with a meal than all the spices of the Indies."110 In the evenings, the young artists gathered in the refectory to draw, discuss each other's work, and present short talks on questions of art and esthetics. Lacking money to engage live models, except for a boy called Severio, to whom Pforr in particular became very attached, they modeled for each other. There was no question of female models. Overbeck had ruled them out as likely to induce impure thoughts and thus affect the quality of their art.
Because of their ascetic way of life, their aim of purifying both their art and their lives, as well as the way they wore their hair—"alla Nazarena," that is to say, shoulder-length and parted down the middle, in deliberate imitation not so much perhaps of Christ as of Raphael and as a sign of allegiance to Dürer and the German artists of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries111 — they were soon referred to as "I Nazareni." The name may have been given them mockingly—in particular by other artists in Rome—but it stuck, and soon lost whatever bite might have been intended. The Lukasbrüder themselves, however, never described themselves as Nazarenes. For as long as the Bund survived, its members addressed and referred to each other only as "Bruder." They also dressed in old German costume, as a further sign of their identification with German artists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In general, their appearance seems to have been adopted in order to signal their goal of reviving and combining their two chief models, Dürer and Raphael, the best of Germany and the best of Italy, as in Wackenroder's Herzensergiessungen or Overbeck's well-known painting, Italia and Germania. Overbeck's self-portraits and his celebrated portrait of Pforr show both the characteristic hairstyle and dress.
In 1811, Wintergerst, who had had to leave Vienna before the move to Rome, rejoined the community at San Isidoro. Other German artists followed, attracted by the goals and early productions of the Brothers and by reports of the welcome the latter extended to newcomers and the atmosphere of freedom and equality they fostered. "The best masters are open-hearted," the young Carl Philip Fohr wrote to his patroness Wilhelmine von Hessen-Darmstadt in February 1817. "Every day one has easy access to their circles and receives the most generous instruction from them. The studios…are outstandingly well organized. Everyone who participates pays a share of the costs and everyone is simultaneously a director and an apprentice" (Quoted Poensgen, p. 15). Over the decade from 1810 to 1820, the Bund increased its membership. The gifted and highly strung Pforr died of tuberculosis in 1812, only weeks after his twenty-fourth birthday. Another of the original founding members (Hottinger) became discouraged and gave up art. But new members were sworn in. They included, in 1812, the energetic and enterprising Düsseldorfer Peter Cornelius (1783–1867), who quickly took over Pforr's role as co-leader of the movement with Overbeck; Wilhelm Schadow (1788–1862), the son of the well-regarded Berlin neoclassical sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow, in 1814; Giovanni Colombo (1784–1853), the only Italian in the group, and the Viennese Johann Scheffer von Leonhardshoff (1792–1822), both in 1815; Johannes Veit (1790–1854) and Philipp Veit (1793–1877), the sons of Dorothea Schlegel from her first marriage, as the fifteen-year-old daughter of Moses Mendelssohn, to the Berlin Jewish banker Simon Veit, in 1816; Friedrich Olivier (1791–1848) and his brother Ferdinand (1785–1841) from Dessau, in 1818; Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the son of a painter from Leipzig, an intimate friend of the Olivier brothers, and, along with Cornelius and Overbeck himself, probably the most successful of the group, also in 1818.
In addition, many German artists visiting Rome for short or long periods fell under the influence of Overbeck and his fellow-Lukasbrüder or sought association with them: Johann David Passavant (1787–1861), a former student of David and Antoine-Jean Gros in Paris, already mentioned as the childhood friend of Pforr and an eloquent champion of the group in print (he was also the author of the first major art-historical monograph on Raphael  and in 1840 took over the direction of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in his native Frankfurt); Johann Anton Ramboux (1790–1866) from Trier, who had also studied with David in Paris; Carl Philip Fohr (1795–1818) from Heidelberg and Franz Horny (1798–1824) from Weimar; the Bohemian Joseph Führich (1800–1876); the Hamburger Friedrich Wasmann (1805–1886); Gustav Heinrich Naecke (1786–1835), later a professor at the Dresden Academy; Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800–1882), from Hanau, one of the first modern Jewish painters; the Holsteiner Theodor von Rehbenitz (1791–1861) who, along with Friedrich Olivier and Schnorr von Carolsfeld, made up a sub-group of the Nazarenes known as "I Capitolini" because they took lodgings in the Palazzo Caffarelli on the Capitol instead of on the Pincio, where the founding brothers had lived and Overbeck and Veit continued to live. The Capitolini appear in fact to have banded together in order to resist the wave of conversions that had carried other Nazarenes—Schadow and Overbeck and the two Veit brothers, along with sympathizers, such as Karl Friedrich Rumohr (1785–1843), the critic and historian of art, and the brothers Franz (1786–1831) and Johannes (1788–1860) Riepenhausen from Göttingen, early amateurs and champions of the Italian Primitives and long-standing German residents of Rome—into the arms of the Catholic Church.
Besides the encouragement of established artists, the youthful newcomers attracted the support of leading German officials and visiting celebrities in the Eternal City. Barthold Georg Niebuhr, the great historian of antiquity, at that time Prussian ambassador to the Holy See, and his first secretary Christian Bunsen, later ambassador to London, entertained them, sometimes quite riotously, in their residences, and often rubbed shoulders with them at their favorite haunt, the Caffè Greco on the via Condotti, a few steps from the Piazza di Spagna. In 1816, the Prussian Consul General for the Italian states, Jacob Salomon Bartholdy, an uncle of the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, gave the young Lukasbrüder—Overbeck, Cornelius, Philipp Veit, and Wilhelm Schadow—their first important collective commission: the decoration of some rooms in his residence, a seventeenth-century palazzo by the brothers Taddeo and Federico Zuccari at the end of the via Sistina where it meets the Piazza della Trinità de' Monti.113 He let himself be persuaded to allow them to experiment with large historical frescoes, instead of the purely decorative motifs he originally had in mind, and they chose to illustrate scenes from the Old Testament story of Joseph (Figs. 63-66).
Four frescoes by Johann Friedrich Overbeck and his associates from the story of Joseph and another by Peter von Cornelius. 1816-17. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie (formerly Rome, Casa Bartholdy) : Left: Fig. 63. The Selling of Joseph. Right: Fig. 64. The Lean Years. Joseph Recognized by his Brothers, which appears below, is by Cornelius.
Left: Fig. 65. Peter von Cornelius. Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh’s Dream. Right: Fig. 66. Wilhelm von Schadow. Jacob’s Lament. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
They made that decision partly no doubt in deference to Bartholdy's Jewish origins (he had converted to Christianity in 1805), but also because they believed Old Testament scenes, as prefigurations both of New Testament ones and of later events and situations, threw light on the meaning of all human history. The choice of an Old Testament theme for their first major work thus emphasized the Nazarenes' view that the aim of history painting is to disclose the truth of events, not to create a purely visual representation of them. As for painting a fresco, the technique had survived the rise of oil and easel painting, but chiefly among local artists in Austria and Italy, and relearning it was an important part of the Nazarenes' program for the revival of art as an integral part of a people's culture rather than a source of momentary pleasure for the well-to-do. In short, both the medium of fresco and the subject matter selected pointed to a relation to history at odds with contemporary progressivism and individualism. Both tended to diminish the significance of the spectacular historical incidents of the Nazarene's own agitated time. In general, the symmetry, stillness, and deliberate archaism of the religious paintings of the Nazarenes and their followers convey a sense of timelessness or rather of sacred time, of history as a scene in which typical actions and dilemmas constantly recur. This vision of history is in stark contrast to the dramatic agitation and reference to contemporary events in the work of many French painters, as well as of the Belgian romantic painters admired by Burckhardt.
Between 1818 and 1820, the Nazarene artists also saw a good deal of Dorothea Schlegel, who had come to Rome to be near her sons and who was related through her brother Abraham Medelssohn to Salomon Bartholdy. (Abraham had married Salomon Bartholdy's sister Leah.) It was at the Schlegels' that Overbeck met Nina Schiffenhuber-Hartl, a pious young woman whom Dorothea had taken under her wing and who had been earlier wooed unsuccessfully by Friedrich Schlegel's brother August Wilhelm. In 1818, Overbeck married her. Other eminent German women—Dorothea's friend Henriette Herz, hostess of a lively literary salon ("Tante Herz" to the two Veits), and Wilhelm von Humbold's wife, Caroline, who took lodgings under the same roof as Schadow and Thorvaldsen (Howitt 1.436) —also strongly supported the young artists and sometimes purchased samples of their work.
Most intimate with the artists was the young Crown Prince of Bavaria, later Ludwig I. Ludwig, who visited Rome no fewer than twenty-seven times in the course of his adult life, was a genuinely enthusiastic amateur of art. Believing he could use art to enhance his prestige, impart an identity to his relatively new kingdom, and transform his capital Munich—which, in contrast to Nuremberg, lacked historical depth in the eyes of the young generation—into a German Athens, he cultivated the artists; and they in turn cultivated him, most notably by organizing an elaborate festive farewell for him in April 1818, on his departure from Rome after a six-month residence in Italy. Inasmuch as one of the Nazarenes' aims was the creation of a new public art, Ludwig, they must have thought, offered them their best chance. In 1819, Cornelius accepted an invitation to become director of the academy in Munich, whither he was followed a decade later by Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Ultimately, however, the relations of both to the monarch turned sour. For the wall decorations in the Munich Residenz, Schnorr proposed combining the then popular stories around Rudolf of Habsburg with scenes from the Old Testament in the spirit of the Nazarenes' figurative approach to representing history. Ludwig judged this plan too "theosophisch," and insisted that the artist simply provide accurate depictions of the historical events—which prompted Schnorr to complain that removing all symbolic allusion would transform what he had envisaged as a coherent work of art ("zusammenhängende Kunstschöpfung") into a mere record ("Verzeichnis von Gegenständen"), little more than the equivalent of a newspaper report on the Middle Ages ("Zeitungsartikel des Mittelalters") (quoted in Fastert, pp. 89, 293) The vision of history he was trying to convey would thereby be reduced from a universal, broadly human one to a merely German national one. In the end, Schnorr complied with his patron's demands, but the experience exposed the illusoriness of the Nazarene dream of a great renewal of the arts to be realized through the collaboration of German artists with the German princes. Cornelius's experience was also, in the end, one of disillusionment. Impressed by the enthusiastic reception of the Belgian history painters in the German art world, Ludwig suddenly took note of complaints that Cornelius was not really a painter, since he considered his cartoons to be the true works of art and was often content to leave the application of paint and color to apprentices. "A painter should know how to paint, after all," the king announced. Sensing the way the wind was blowing, Cornelius left for Berlin after twenty years of working toward the realization of Ludwig's new Athens.116
By the 1840s, many other Nazarene artists or artists sympathetic to the Nazarenes had found positions as directors of academies and museums, but this seeming success in fact marked the end of the movement's most vital period.117 The early Lukasbrüder had been rebels and enemies of all academic instruction, but a weakening of their original impulse had set in as early as the second decade of the century. For the "Nazarenes" had come to designate a larger, less cohesive, and more heterogeneous group than the Lukasbrüder. The balance in the original Lukasbund between "religion" and "patriotism" (as Goethe had put it), symbolized by the friendship of Overbeck and Pforr, was not maintained in the larger and looser association, nor was their ascetic way of life. As illustrated by Carl Philipp Fohr in 1818 (Fig. 67) or as described by Felix Mendelssohn in December 1830,118 the gatherings at the Caffè Greco had a rowdy Bohemian character hardly compatible with the earnestness and piety of the Bund founded in Vienna by Overbeck and Pforr. As early as 1817, a duel between the gifted young Fohr, a former member of a Heidelberg Burschenschaft or fraternity, and his close friend Ludwig Ruhl had unsettled the German artistic community in Rome and revealed tensions and pressures incompatible with the spirit of the original Lukasbrüder. Above all, the idealizing artistic impulse of the founders gradually gave way, in many, to the prevailing realism of the age.
Philipp Veit’s Self-portraits in youth (Fig. 68) and old age (Fig. 69) — both courtesy of the Landesmuseum in Mainz.
This development is visible in two self-portraits by Philipp Veit, one dating from 1816 and the other from more than a half-century later, 1873 (Figs. 68, 69). A recent retrospective of the work of the Jewish artist from Hanau, Moritz Oppenheim, showed a similar development from the artist's Roman period in the 1820s, when he was visibly under Nazarene influence both in choice of subject matter and in style, to his work of the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, when he appears to be striving to achieve the painterly and light effects of a Menzel.119
(Fig. 70): Johann Friedrich Overbeck, The Triumph of Religion (or Christianity) in the Arts . 1829-40. Oil on canvas. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main,
By the second half of the century, Overbeck was virtually alone in having refused all invitations to return to Germany and in having kept faith with the original principles of the Bund, but his isolation may have arrested his development as an artist. His art became more and more didactic and seemed to lose a good deal of the sincerity and simplicity that had once characterized it. His celebrated Triumph of Religion in the Arts (Fig. 70), with its strong reference to Raphael’s Disputation of the Holy Sacrament was provided with an elaborate accompanying text designed to explain every aspect of the painting to the viewer. Burckhardt, in particular, objected that such explanatory texts signified a radical failure of art.120
Overbeck and Pforr
Before the Brothers' move to Rome, the twenty-one-year-old Overbeck had produced, in addition to a large number of drawings, two oil paintings — a Self-Portrait with the Bible and a Raising of Lazarus (Fig. 71) — as well as the cartoon for his later Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (see fig. 5).
Fig. 71. Johann Friedrich Overbeck, The Raising of Lazarus. 1808. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Museen für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck.
Pforr, too, had made many drawings, including a series of illustrations for Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen. He had also completed two oil paintings, already strongly reminiscent of old German and Netherlandish work, one depicting St. George Slaying the Dragon (Fig. 72) and one the popular theme of Rudolf of Habsburg and the Priest, the back of which carries the Lukasbund stamp of approval (Fig. 73).
Two works by Franz Pforr — Left (Fig 72): St. George and the Dragon. c. 1811. Oil on panel. Right (Fig 73): Rudolf of Habsburg and the Priest.. Both courtesy of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
The two friends brought several unfinished canvases with them from Vienna, and spent the first two years in Rome completing these while also starting work on others. By the end of 1810, Overbeck had completed his Portrait of Franz Pforr (Fig. 9) and Pforr his Entry of Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg into Basel, 1273 (Fig. 1), , both of which had been begun in Vienna. The following year, Pforr produced the oil painting Shulamith and Mary, which he intended as a gift to Overbeck and a token of their friendship (Fig. 74). It was the last work he was able to paint before his death.
Figure 75. Left: Dürer and Raphael before the Throne of Art. Franz Pforr. 1808. Reproductive etching by Karl Hoff. Figure 76. Right: Dürer und Raphael reichen sich vor dem Thron der Religion die Hand. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. 1810. Pencil drawing. Courtesy of the Albertina, Vienna [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Several of the works the two men created in these early years stand in a close and complex relation to each other that testifies to the unusually close personal friendship and collaboration of their creators. A drawing by Pforr of Raphael and Dürer before the Throne of Art (Fig. 75), inspired in part by Wackenroder's enthusiastic evocation of the two artists in the Herzensergiessungen, was copied in his own manner by Overbeck (Fig. 76) and seems to have been intended as a representation of the friendship of the two art students, of their distinct but complementary artistic ideals—Raphael for Overbeck, Dürer for Pforr—and of their common dedication to a vision of art so close to the most sublime of values, religion, as to be almost indistinguishable from it. The figure of "die Kunst" ("Art"), before whom the two artists are shown kneeling, is indistinguishable from a representation of the Virgin. Very soon after, the two young men began to use two contrasting and yet complementary female figures in order to represent their close personal friendship and the identical ideal that each pursued in his own artistic manner.
Left: Fig. 77. Allegory of Friendship. Franz Pforr. 1808. Pencil drawing. Städelsches Kunstinstitut,, Frankfurt am Main. Right: Fig. 78. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. The Shulamite and Mary. 1812. Chalk and charcoal drawing. Museen für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lübeck. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Though the idea appears to have originated with Overbeck, Pforr opened the series in 1808 with a typical outline drawing, entitled Allegory of Friendship (See Howitt 1.196). It depicts two female figures, seated on a bench, turned toward each other, and looking into each other's eyes, one with her left arm around the other's shoulder (Fig. 77). Around them are various symbolic figures and objects in the manner of the old German masters: on a ledge, an eagle—the attribute of John the Evangelist (of all Overbeck's friends and family members, Pforr alone always addressed him by his first Christian name, Johannes)—and behind it a church steeple and a rising sun (the triumph of faith); on the wall above the two figures, a representation of the Last Supper; on the ground, an open purse (generosity and sharing of possessions), a winged heart encircled by a snake biting its tale (eternal friendship), a dog (fidelity), a sword (solidarity and readiness of the friends to come to each other's aid). The dress of the two women, their headgear, and the church in the background (in a copy of the drawing that Pforr made for David Passavant122 the Gothic steeple in the original was changed to the circular roof of an Italian chapel) suggest that the homeland of one of them is northern and of the other, southern.
In 1810, this drawing of Pforr's was reworked by Overbeck into a simpler study of two large seated female figures, clasping hands, and now clearly distinguished by hairstyle and ornament as "northern" and "southern" (Fig. 78). The various symbolic items in Pforr's Allegory were eliminated from this more Italianate version and the two figures fill the entire space. Overbeck entitled it "Sulamith und Maria"—a reference to the many discussions in which he and Pforr had tried to imagine and describe their ideal partners: Pforr, his as a fair-haired German maiden (Mary); and Overbeck, his as a darker Mediterranean type (Shulamith, or The Shulamite), to whom it seemed appropriate to give the name not only of the Beloved in the Old Testament "Song of Songs" but of the central figure, who becomes the poet's muse, in two odes by Klopstock, a poet much loved in the strongly Pietist Overbeck household.123 Most important, perhaps, by representing their friendship through the images of their respective betrothed, the two friends may have intended to signal that it had a spiritual and religious, more than patriotic or simply personal character. The representation of the soul as female and the symbolism of the Beloved in the Biblical "Song of Songs" as the bride of Christ and a prefiguration of Mary were part of a centuries-old tradition of Christian exegesis.124
Left: Figure 74. Franz Pforr, Sulamith and Maria. 1811. Oil on panel, 34.5 x 32 cm. Courtesy of Museum George Schäfer, Schweinfurt. Right: Figure 79. Italia and Germania [Italy and Germany]. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. 1811-1828. Oil on canvas, 94.4 x 104.7 cm. Oil on canvas. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, Munich.
Now it was again Pforr's turn to develop the theme. In 1811, not long before his death, he painted the small picture of Shulamith and Mary (Fig. 74). Once again two female figures represented the bond of friendship uniting the two men and the complementarity of their artistic ideals—early Italian Renaissance in Overbeck's case, old German in Pforr's. After Pforr's death, Overbeck also returned once again to the Shulamith and Mary theme, this time working up his earlier drawing, which he had already partly integrated into his Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (the two female figures are recognizable in the center of this canvas, at the right hand of Christ), into one of his best-known paintings, Italia and Germania (Fig. 79). Even though Overbeck gave this picture a new and more easily understandable title and did not complete it until 1828, sixteen years after Pforr's death, it is in no way fanciful to see in it a continuation of the dialogue with Pforr and a renewed testimony to the friendship that had been the foundation of the Lukasbund as an art movement and that Overbeck continued to cherish for fifty-seven years until his own death in 1869.125
Franz Pforr’s two self portraits — the one at left (Fig. 80) oil on canvas, and that at right (Fig. 81) pencil on paper. The oil portrait in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main and the sketch in a private owner.
Pforr's so-called Self-Portrait may also bear witness to the unusually close collaboration of the two men. On the back of a small oil painting of Pforr in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt (Fig. 80) — to which we shall return shortly—there is an inscription: "Franz Pforr gemalt von Overbeck in Rom." On the basis of that evidence, the painting was attributed, until recently, to Overbeck. The discovery of what appears to have been a preliminary drawing (Fig. 81), bearing the inscription "Pforr ipse fec." ("made by Pforr himself"), combined with the stylistic evidence of both drawing and painting, has led to the reattribution of the painting to Pforr. (The high degree and nature of the stylization and the defiance of realistic perspective in a portrait that appears to be frontal, three-quarters, and profile at the same time is more characteristic of Pforr than of Overbeck). It is now seen as a self-portrait. However, given the intensity with which the two men discussed their work and their desire, as a mark of the bond between them and their shared ideals, to incorporate elements of the other's work in their own, it is not inconceivable that Overbeck painted the oil portrait after Pforr's drawing.
Left: Fig. 84. Hans Holbein the Younger. Portrait of Sir Richard Southwell. 1536. Oil and tempera on wood. Uffizi, Florence. Right: Fig. 85. Albrecht Dürer. Portrait of a Young Man. 1500. Oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Two portraits by Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Left: Fig. 82. Portrait of Joseph Sutter. 1810. Oil on paper laid on canvas. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie. Right: Fig. 83. Portrait of Joseph Wintergerst. 1813. Oil on paper mounted on canvas. Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
Moreover, Overbeck's portraits of two of the other original Lukasbrüder, Joseph Wintergerst and Joseph Sutter (Figs. 82, 83), show a similar concentration on the face and a similar tendency toward simplification and directness, reminiscent of portraits by Netherlandish and German artists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, if not even more pronounced than in the latter. (Figs. 84, 85).
Left: Fig. 86. Anton Raphael Mengs, Self-Portrait. Circa 1775. Oil on panel. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie. Middle: Fig. 87. Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, Portrait of Friedrich Schiller. 1805. Oil on canvas. Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig. Right: Fig. 88. Ambrosius Holbein,Portrait of a Boy with Fair Hair. 1816. Tempera on wood. Öffentlich Kunstsammlung, Basel.
As these early works by two very young artists opened a new chapter in German painting, a brief commentary on a few of them is called for. Overbeck's Portrait of Franz Pforr (Fig. 9)--perhaps the work of his that modern viewers are most likely to be acqainted with--contrasts strikingly with most portraits of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, not only late rococo works but even works by artists who had turned against the rococo and adopted a somewhat more restrained neoclassical style (Figs. 86, 87). With its clear outlines and simple local colors, renunciation of all sensuous and illusionist light and tone effects, use of symbols, and incorporation of a Gothic window frame into the picture, it harks back to the old German school (Fig. 88).
Its aim is clearly not to produce, like most portraits of the time, a lively, appealing or seductive image of the subject and to represent social status and social persona by the most sensuous possible depiction of dress, background, flesh tints, gesture, expression, and so forth, but rather to signify the subject's essential character, values, and commitments. The emphasis is not on the optical impression of the passing moment but on the enduring essence that lies behind it and is visible only to the inner eye.126 The eyes are indeed the dominant feature of Overbeck's Pforr, but while they look outward directly and seriously at the viewer, they also, in contrast to many portraits at the time, do not seek to engage with the viewer and resist any attempt on the viewer’s part to engage with the subject. There is no complicity with the viewer, no seductiveness, no attempt to manipulate the viewer's reaction. Instead, the viewer must read the portrait on his or her own and strive to divine its inner character.
Paradoxically, the effect of the old German costume and of the historical anachronism of the style and setting is to erase the entire question of historical reality and definition and to emphasize that what the artist has aimed to provide is not an impression of his subject as a readily decipherable empirical presence in a particular time and place, but a vision of his subject both in all the mystery of his unique individuality and as the epitome of the Christian artist. The incorrect, non-geometric perspective, with its flat, receding planes, effectively excludes any illusionist impression of space. The relations among the pictorial elements, in other words, do not attempt to mirror physical reality, but point to another, immaterial reality. Even the sitter's gender is not well defined by physical body or dress. The subject may in fact strike us as quite androgynous. Gender is signified by the implied relation to the fair-haired woman in a different part of the picture, possibly the subject's wife or a Traumbild of the wife he would like to have, reading—Madonna-like—in an open book as she knits. There is ample documentary evidence to show that in creating this female figure Overbeck carefully followed Pforr's own description of his ideal spouse: "a young, beautiful, fair-haired, tender, and extremely appealing maiden, simply but tastefully attired…In short, such a maiden as Germany might have produced in the Middle Ages."127 The female presence in the picture is thus at once the Virgin revered by the Christian artist and the artist's ideal bride. At the same time, it might not be irrelevant that in 1808, in a letter to his father relating how he and Pforr had tried to imagine their ideal partners, Overbeck explained that, in his own case, he did not know, "whether I should call mine male or female. All I could say is that it was an earnest, yet gentle being…with dark hair, and only the head and hands visible; at its heart something holy, unearthly, in its stance and gestures something mysterious—in short, a being that one could not only love but revere, and the sight of which would arouse in one the holiest of feelings."128 The sitter represented in Overbeck's portrait has at least some of the features of that androgynous ideal and it is striking that Overbeck kept this image of his friend by him for the rest of his life, along with the painting of Shulamith and Mary, which Pforr had made for him.
Some similarities to the Lukasbund stamp, which had also been designed by Overbeck—the arched framing of the portrait, for instance, or the view of a steep Mediterranean coastline through the window at top left—may well have been intended to suggest an identification of Pforr with the patron saint of the Lukasbrüder (to whom in turn, as noted, Overbeck had given the features of Dante). Pforr himself had associated the artistic vocation and the religious one: "I would ask anyone planning to dedicate himself to art the same question one would ask of someone who wanted to be a monk: 'Can you take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and keep them? If so, you are welcome.'"129 The possibility that the image of Pforr was intended to convey the sacred character of art and the qualities of purity and dedication required of the artist is supported by the wine-red of Pforr's garment, a color that, according to the color symbolism worked out by Overbeck and Pforr in Vienna, alluded to the Eucharist and was supposed to communicate a feeling of holiness (see Lehr, pp. 275–77). As a favorite color of Pforr's it also signified the sitter, rather than represented him. In the same way, the coloring of the woman appears to have been chosen to signify gentleness, for, according to Pforr, the artist should not use color simply to create sensuously pleasing effects but in order "to produce a harmony of the individual being represented and his or her clothing." (Quoted in Lehr, p. 275; Fastert, p. 56). The saintly, religious character of the image and the scene—and, implicitly, of the sitter's artistic vocation—is further reinforced by the lily and the lectern beside the woman, both attributes of the Virgin. Other symbols—the vine (signifying artistic fulfillment perhaps); the cat, gently related in its slightly forward position on the sitter's left, by the slanting bust of the sitter himself, to the female figure situated slightly behind him on his right ("il gatto della Madonna"?132 ); the domesticated falcon (used by Pforr himself in his illustrations for Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen and applied here probably in its traditional meaning of the Gentile converted to Christianity133 ); the juxtaposition of a medieval German townscape with an Italian coastline (signifying the central theme for Overbeck and Pforr of the union of Raphael and Dürer, "Italia" and "Germania," and, at the same time, the theme of their own friendship); as well as the engravings on the frame, which include Pforr's personal emblem of a skull topped by a cross (the victory of faith over death)—also point away from any realistic intention. In addition, independently of their meaning, the very presence of so many small symbolic items in the picture might well be an allusion to one of the characteristics of Pforr's Dürer-like art, rather than Overbeck's own, more Raphael-like manner.
Fig 1. Franz Pforr, Entry of King Rudolph of Habsburg into Basel, 1273, 1810. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Historisches Museum/Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main.
Pforr's Entry of Rudolf of Habsburg into Basel in 1273 (Fig. 1) is, if anything, even more radical in its defiance of contemporary norms. The obvious reference to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century German painting and popular Bilderbogen, for instance—with their single woodcut sheets depicting tournaments, processions, and battles in uncompromisingly flat, two-dimensional design; their flat, heraldic local colors applied in pattern one next to the other; and their hard, decisive contours—underlines the deliberate, conscious rejection of the illusionist tradition134 and forces the viewer to approach the work in a completely different spirit, to read it in a different way from a naturalistic image. A certain suggestion of space is created by the turn of the procession into the street leading to the square in the middle left, which the welcoming party of the burghers of Basel is about to enter from a narrow street beyond. But the rejection of correct geometric perspective and the seemingly arbitrary relative proportions of buildings and figures effectively block any naturalistic illusion. While the line of the houses signifies depth, the buildings are perceived as stretched across the flat surface of the painting. In the words Rosenblum used to describe the work of Carstens, Pforr's painting communicates "an idea of a space, rather than an illusion of a space" (Rosenblum, p. 96.).
As the dominant formal element in the work, contour gives to each element a precise definition, allowing the figures, despite a certain degree of plasticity, to be integrated into the surface plane. The impression of a bright surface image, with no illusionist ambitions, is reinforced by Pforr's application of color, which is always firmly contained within the precise contours of figures and buildings, by the typically old German accuracy of detail, and by the absence of light effects. The even distribution of light also prevents the subordination of any one part of the painting to any other. At the same time, the figure of Rudolf is given special importance by being placed at the center of the picture, where the diagonals formed by the groups on the left and the right intersect and the procession shifts direction—though this movement is indicated only by a slight inclination of Rudolf's horse's head. The artist's use of color also focuses attention on Rudolf as the strikingly colorless central point of the entire bright pageant.
If the painting does not aim to create an illusion of reality, it also does not aspire to historical or antiquarian realism. Never having been to Basel, Pforr asked David Passavant to describe the Rathaus to him and Passavant sent him a sketch of it. Pforr thanked him, but went on to explain that "he could not make use of it because the architectural style was not appropriate."136 Instead, Pforr appears to have found inspiration for the street scene and the architecture in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century German painting and illustrations. Likewise, the dress of the figures in the picture is not that of 1273 but that of the early sixteenth century. Pforr's intention, in short, appears to have been to create neither a visually realistic nor a historically accurate image, but a symbolic one, exploring and exhibiting the meaning of the event depicted.137
Fig. 73: Franz Pforr, Rudolf of Habsburg and the Priest. 1810. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt a.M.
Picking up on Schiller's ballad on the subject, Pforr had already painted the legendary episode of Rudolf of Habsburg and the Priest (1808–09; see fig. 73)—in which Rudolph dismounts from his horse and helps a priest carrying the sacraments to a sick person to cross a stream. As the Habsburgs were widely considered the chief defenders of German independence against Napoleon in those years, this subject had achieved great popularity and was painted over and over again in the first four decades of the nineteenth century (for example, by Ferdinand Olivier in 1816, and by Pforr's friend Josef Wintergerst in 1822). Rudolph came to symbolize the good monarch—modest, compassionate, helpful, and, as a restorer of peace and order, a particular friend of burghers and townspeople—a kind of German roi bourgeois. Pforr's Entry should thus be read not as a realistic portrayal of an historical moment or event but as a portrayal of its meaning. The dull blue-gray of the emperor's costume at the center of the colorful painting, for instance, signifies the hero's legendary modesty.
A well-developed series of wall paintings within the painting is likewise richly significant, rather than merely serving as historical couleur locale. On the furthest wall of the first row of houses on the right, a large painting of St. Christopher (who, according to the legend inscribed in his name, carried Christ in the form of a child across a river) serves as a prefiguration of the story of Rudolf and the Priest. A further series of smaller wall paintings stretching from just beyond the first oriel window on the right to the extreme right of the painting depicts episodes from the Old Testament story of Joseph in Egypt: the furthest away, largely concealed by the protruding window, most likely Joseph Sold into Slavery by his Brothers; the next, Joseph Resisting Potiphar's Wife; then, on the wall parallel to the picture surface, Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of the Chief Butler and the Chief Baker in Prison,; Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh's Dream of the Lean and the Fat Kine, Joseph Made Governor of Egypt; and finally, Joseph Recognized by his Brothers.
From early Christian times, Joseph in Egypt had commonly been interpreted as a figure of Christ: as Joseph was sold into slavery, then thrown into prison, then raised by Pharaoh to rule over Egypt, and finally reunited with his brothers, so Christ was betrayed by Judas, then crucified and buried, then resurrected to rule with his Father, and reunited with his Church. By the high Middle Ages, the figuration had been extended to encompass secular rulers, as in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, where the Joseph story alludes to the piety, justice, and generosity of Louis IX (Saint-Louis), the royal donor. In Pforr's painting, the scene of Joseph being elevated to governor of Egypt, to which the viewer is directed by the pointing index finger of the bearded man in the next to last window on the right, prefigures the election of Rudolf as Emperor, which has just occurred at the time represented in the picture and which Rudolf is marking by forgiving an offense against him by the burghers of Basel. Far from being the illusionist representation of a singular moment of history (as the specificity of the date might lead one to expect), The Entry of Rudolf of Habsburg into Basel in 1273 has a sweeping temporal dimension. It extends from the Joseph story of the Old Testament through the life of Christ and the legend of St. Christopher to the election of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1273, and beyond that depicted event, to the time of the artist's construction of the scene in the style of old German, "Primitive" painting of the early sixteenth century, the role of the Habsburgs as German Emperors (until Napoleon's dissolution of the Empire in 1806), and the widespread hope of the artist's generation that a new, wise, peace-loving emperor would arise, reunite the German nation, and liberate it from the Napoleonic yoke.138 Overbeck's fondness for representing his fellow artists and members of his family among the secondary figures in his religious paintings, as in the upper right section of Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, or even directly as a principal Biblical figure, as in the 1818 drawing Ruth and Boaz (Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Lübeck), where Ruth has the traits of his new wife, Nina (in fact, the drawing was intended to be sent to Lübeck in order to introduce Nina to his parents),139 bears witness to a similar figurative or typological view of history as a scene of repetition rather than a process of evolution.
As with Overbeck's Portrait of Franz Pforr or Pforr's Entry of Rudolf of Habsburg, the deliberate primitivism of Pforr’s diptych entitled Shulamith and Mary (Fig. 74) obliges the viewer to approach the work in a different spirit from that in which he or she would approach a visual representation of physical reality. His two female figures are rich in symbolic meaning.
Left: Fig. 89. Martin Schongauer, Madonna and Child on a Grassy Bench. 2nd half of 15th century. Engraving on paper. Art Institute, Chicago. Right: Fig. 90. Albrecht Dürer, Madonna with the Monkey. c. 1498. Copper Engraving Courtesy of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, R.I.
In addition, through its reminiscences of Martin Schongauer and Dürer (Figs. 89, 90), the work refers to other, earlier art works, and that artistic reference is essential to its meaning. In fact, this unusual painting was not intended for the general viewer, but for an artistically informed one. As already noted, it was painted by Pforr for Overbeck as a gift of friendship and was accompanied by a handwritten tale, likewise composed by Pforr for Overbeck personally, of two young artists and their twin sister brides—the dark-haired Shulamith and the fair-haired Mary—along with various other drawings illustrating scenes from the tale. Both the surprisingly small dimensions (32 by 34 centimeters) and the diptych form recall a medieval portable altar. The picture was clearly meant to accompany its owner everywhere and to be kept always close by him as something precious, even sacred. Friendship acquires here an earnest, almost religious character that distinguishes it from the sentimental, schwärmerisch friendships of the late eighteenth century. It becomes the symbol of a universal love, in which man and woman, North and South, Old Testament and New Testament, are united with each other while retaining their distinctiveness.140
Pforr's work signifies this formally. The two friends are not represented directly, but through their ideal spouses, and even the latter are not depicted with arms around each other or clasping hands, but are kept separate, each in her own panel of the painting.141 (In this respect, the artist's earlier Allegory of Friendship and Overbeck's Italia and Germania are more sentimental than this work.) In fact, each panel is relatively independent of the other—the Shulamith panel lighter, more open, more Italianate; the Mary panel darker, more enclosed and domestic, more Dürer-like. Each could easily constitute an autonomous painting on its own. Yet the two are united not only by the frame and the presiding figure of St. John (again, referring to Johannes Overbeck) as scribe in the third, top section of the work, but by a series of formal and thematic harmonies: the repeated reds and whites, the symmetrically inclined heads of the two brides, the representation of the Shulamite with infant in a hortus conclusus, while her husband, as Overbeck, enters from the right, suggesting an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. As in traditional Christian exegesis, the figures of Shulamith and Mary are at once different and identical, for the Bride of the "Song of Songs" was widely interpreted allegorically as a prefiguration of Mary. Pforr's unique little work thus represented the relationship of the two friends as one in which they are at once distinct from one another and yet united with one another. While each retains his personal and artistic independence and serves "die heilige Kunst" in his own way (as in Pforr's drawing of Raphael and Dürer kneeling before "holy art" in the form of the Virgin), they are one through their love and dedication.142 The other symbolic elements in the painting—the lily, the lamb, the falcon, the dove and the swallow, the cat (a reference, as Pforr himself noted, to the cat Overbeck had placed in his portrait of Pforr) never threaten the essential unity of the work. To me, this is a painting of wonderful delicacy and charm. "Fancy calendar art," as a reviewer in the New York Times described the work of the Nazarenes, would be a woefully inadequate description of it.143
Finally, the haunting, starkly simplified portrait of Pforr of 1810 (Fig. 80) — another small canvas of only 22 by 17 centimeters—once again stands in vivid contrast to most late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century portraiture, recalling rather, like other Nazarene portraits, late Gothic or early Renaissance representations of the human face. It may even strike the contemporary viewer as modern in its high degree of stylization and disregard of naturalist perspective. The color range is extremely sober, essentially consisting of varying shades of brown, relieved only by the pale blue of the intensely clear, questioning eyes and the white of the collar and shirt front. The face fills the painting's surface, absorbing all the viewer's attention, with no distracting background to suggest social context and minimal modeling to suggest physical depth. Nose and mouth appear almost in profile, but the side of the face that in a profile would be concealed from the viewer has been pulled forward, while the side that is turned toward the viewer lacks perspectival foreshortening. Within this strangely flat image, with its multiple viewpoints and bold defiance of coherent perspective, the clear, well-defined lines of nose, mouth, eyes and eyebrows, hairline and slightly waving hair, jaw, shirt collar, and shirt front create a striking linear rhythm that gives the work an intense unity.144
Closing Reflections: Nazarene Style, Neohumanism, and Early Romanticism
Later work by the Nazarenes bears out Richard Muther's judgment of a hundred years ago that "nobility of grouping and fine arrangement of lines," together, in most cases, with "a harmony of colours" were major objectives of their art (Muther 1.133). The chief appeal of the Nazarenes' paintings and drawings still lies, I believe, as Muther suggested, in their calm linearity and in the sense of order without constraint that they communicate to the viewer. All the figures in a Nazarene painting or drawing, while firmly held together in a single composition, retain their independence and clarity of outline. Even without assuming, like Shulamith and Mary, the form of a diptych, the canvas is often divided by strong verticals into relatively distinct spatial units and groups.146 Secondary figures are drawn and painted with the same meticulous care and distinctness as primary ones. In contrast to much baroque and romantic painting, it seems as though no one and nothing is sacrificed to the production of a single overall effect. All appear equally in the same light; but all are bound together in an unforced and untheatrical unity by the characteristic firm yet flowing lines, by repetitions and equivalences, by patterns of color, and by the balance and transparency of the composition (Figs 91-98)
Left: Fig. 91. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Ave Maria and Benedicta in Mulieribus. 1814. Pencil drawing. Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel. Kupferstichkabinett. Right: Fig. 92. Johann Friedrich Overbeck. Christ in the House of Mary and Martha. 1815. Oil on canvas. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie.
These formal features correspond to the Nazarenes' figurative view of history, which also allows for repetition with difference and for unity without violent subordination of the parts to the whole. One might say that the vision of the world communicated by their work was more compatible with an older version of Empire or international order as a close association of independent yet not dissimilar entities, as in the Holy Roman Empire, than with the new version represented by the Napoleonic Empire; with the national ideal of a union of all the German states and cities rather than with the model of a centralized state such as France; and with the political ideal of the German and Swiss liberals of the Restoration period rather than with modern mass democracy. Their work, in my view, is thoroughly anti-absolutist and anti-imperialist—and no less opposed to the imperialism of the individual subject than to that of a total system, be it Hobbesian-baroque or Hegelian-romantic. As one critic observed disparagingly, there was something "kleinstädtisch" about these young artists from Frankfurt and Lübeck and Hamburg (Scheffler, p. 17). Friedrich Schlegel's comment on the early Italian masters in his Report on the Paintings in Paris, 1802–04 seems to capture the spirit of Nazarene painting. "No confused groups, but a few individual figures, finished with such care and diligence as bespeak a just idea of the beauty and holiness of that most glorious of all hieroglyphic images, the human body; severe and grave forms, sharply outlined, and standing out in clear definition; no contrast of effect, produced by blending chiaroscuro and dark shadows (the brilliant reflection of light-illumined objects being thrown in to relieve the gloom of night), but pure masses and harmonies of colour; draperies and costumes that seem to belong to the figures and are as sober and naïve as they are."149
Fig. 94. Peter von Cornelius. The Wise and Foolish Virgins. Circa 1813. Oil on canvas. Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.
The aim of the Nazarene artists, in short, seems to have been to restore, gracefully and without violence, a unity that they believed had been lost, to reconcile truth (or faith) and art, idea and experience, subject and object, Old Testament and New Testament, community and individual. They presented a model of this reconciliation in their art by showing that the order and significance of the principal theme or action and the centrality of the leading figures can be maintained without sacrifice of the relative autonomy of accessory figures or actions, and that artistic form and spiritual meaning are not mutually exclusive. They would have objected strenuously to any radical distinction between esthetic and traditional moral and religious values; and they would not in any circumstances have considered themselves decorative artists, aesthetes or champions of l'art pour l'art (a notion that was already forming in their time). Probably they should be distinguished from many of the later English Pre-Raphaelites. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood came into existence at the very moment (1848) when the Nazarenes were succumbing to the pressure of naturalism and realism. As the context of their revolution was different from that in which pre-Raphaelitism evolved, so was their response. The Nazarenes were in revolt against the emphasis on painterly technique to glorify wealth and power. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, it was against the harsh utilitarian materialism of an advanced commercial and industrial society rather than the vanity and hedonism of the rich and powerful that the English Pre-Raphaelites took their stand. The decorative element in their work was an affirmation—albeit, perhaps, an ambiguous one—of the value of the non-utilitarian.
Left: Fig. 95. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.Saint Roch giving alms. 1817. Oil on canvas. 91 x 128 cm. Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig. Right: Fig. 98. Johann von Schraudolph. The Annunciation. 1838. Oil on panel, 66 x 92 cm. Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel.
However opposed the Nazarenes may have been to any esthetic formalism, it is nevertheless to the formal qualities of their art that the sympathetic modern viewer—who does not necessarily share their Christian faith and piety or their idealized vision of Old Germany—is probably chiefly responsive. For by their very archaism, these formal qualities stand out and demand the viewer's attention. The form of a work may in turn suggest meanings independently of the work's ostensible subject matter. To my mind, the work of the Nazarenes still bears the imprint of certain key features of German neohumanism. Their subject matter may have been Christian rather than Greek or Roman, but "edle Einfalt und stille Grösse" (Winckelmann), modified by a Dürer-like attention to individual detail, are still the Nazarenes' supreme artistic values. No less than the work of their neoclassical contemporaries or immediate predecessors in Germany—painters such as Schick, Koch, and Wächter, or sculptors such as Johann Heinrich Dannecker, Johann Gottfried Schadow (the father of Wilhelm), and Christian Friedrich Tieck (the brother of Wackenroder's closest friend, Ludwig Tieck)—their art has a strong Utopian strain and may be seen as one artistic response to the problem of reconciling the freedom and autonomy of the part with the unity of the whole, subjectivity with objectivity, the real with the true. Wrestling earnestly with that problem has been the distinctive contribution of German neohumanism and early romanticism alike.
Left: Fig. 96. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. The Wedding at Cana. 1819. Oil on canvas. 140 x 210 cm. Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Right: Fig. 97. Josef von Führich. Jacob Encountering Rachel. 1836. Oil on canvas, 66 x 92 cm. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.
Ideological Criteria in German Judgments of the Nazarenes
The vocabulary of much late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German art-historical writing on the Nazarenes is dominated by the categories and values of "Lebensphilosophie." "Life" was opposed and preferred to "thought," the immediacy of sensuous experience to reflection, movement to tranquility, energetic engagement with the world to distance from it. "Gedankenkunst" became the term of abuse applied to an art that was accused of being removed from the reality of visual experience and of being the creation of theorists, theologians, and philosophers, the product of Begriff, rather than Anschauung, in the language used by the early twentieth-century art critic Karl Scheffler, a protégé of the doughty defender of impressionism, Julius Meier-Graefe.
That the art of the Nazarenes was driven too much by ideas and theories was a charge made against it as early as 1841 by an earlier "progressive" critic. In a review of Overbeck's Triumph of Religion in the Arts (Städelsches Institut, Frankfurt am Main; fig. 70), Friedrich Theodor Vischer denounced the claim that "die Kunst muss Ideen darstellen" ("Art must be a representation of ideas.") This was, he declared, "totally false! For it means that the artist must first have an idea, that is to say, he must first cook up some abstract thought and then hang clothing on to it." The inevitable consequence of such a drastic separation of idea and visual image ("Idee" and "Bild"), according to Vischer, was allegorical painting (Deutsche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Kunst, 5 August 1841, no. 30, 117). In France, Baudelaire developed the same argument in a series of criticisms—chiefly directed against the Lyons school, which had been heavily influenced by the Nazarenes—of what he called variously "la peinture didactique," "l'art philosophique," "les peintres raisonneurs," and "les peintres idéalistes." By the end of the nineteenth century, this critique had become commonplace. The French art historian Léon Rosenthal, writing in 1900, noted the Nazarenes' "disdain for color" and "the customary usage of the palette." Their art, he declared, "is not addressed only or even primarily to the eye" and even where they show formal inventiveness, they are "preoccupied above all with an idea" (La Peinture romantique. Essai sur l'évolution de la peinture française de 1815 à 1830 [Paris: L. Henry May, 1900], 306–307).
Liveliness and movement are defining criteria in Deutsche Maler und Zeichner im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1909) by the influential critic Karl Scheffler. The book opens with a contrast of Anschauung and Begriff, or the visual and the conceptual, terms that appear to have some affinity with Schiller's "naïve" and "sentimental." Essentially, Scheffler viewed the Nazarenes as having come on the scene at an unfavorable moment, when the artist no longer had a natural relation to his public and art itself had become problematical. Thus we learn on the first page of the section devoted to the Nazarenes that "what was lived naively and as a matter of practical experience in earlier centuries is now lived in an overwhelmingly critical-theoretical mode." It is characteristic of the domain of thought, according to Scheffler, that it will not wait, "until life creates things organically, but must force developments intellectually" (p. 9). The result is that those artists who are thinkers and theorists, rather than men of Anschauung, being out of touch with life, resort to eclecticism, both intellectual and artistic (7, 10, 13, 15-16)—that is, being unable to create appropriate styles and values of their own out of the immediate experience of their time (since they have turned away from their time), they pick and choose consciously and at will among styles and values spontaneously produced by earlier artists, who had been truly in tune with and expressive of their times. Thus the monumental art that the Nazarenes tried to revive"has become a museum art and as such is viewed with bored respect." A truly "living monumentalism is to be found only where…it can create the material it uses…out of living myth" (32–33).
The reproach is ultimately similar to that of Burckhardt and Vischer: the Nazarenes tried —and inevitably failed—to realize an art that they dreamed up in their minds but for which the real historical experience of their time provided no warrant. The Nazarenes did not even understand what was essential about the Renaissance itself, Scheffler claimed. "What was great and living in it was understood in the provincial spirit of the small-town dweller, according to principles and in a literary way (kleinstädtisch, grundsätzlich und literarisch). The Nazarenes picked their way with cautious, Biedermeier steps among the splendors of Rome and were able to draw from all the visually stimulating colossal grandeur only pleasing proprieties and sweet sentimentality" (17). Even Peter Cornelius, who introduced a certain "element of struggle and combat" into the movement, could not much affect its "measured" and "lethargic" (gleichmässige and schläferige) character (21). The same point about the incapacity of the "kleinstädtisch" German artists of the nineteenth century to understand the liveliness and energy of the early Renaissance artists they claimed to admire had been made shortly before by Cornelius Gurlitt in his Die deutsche Kunst des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, (1899): "When the historically informed viewer of 1900 compares the Germans of 1800, all of them from small towns [Kleinstädte], with the Florentines of 1500 and takes note of the political and social conflicts from which each of the two groups emerged, he cannot refrain from smiling at the presumption of imagining in Weimar and Dresden that one could look down upon the Florentines and judge them as ordinary, simple men. Shut up in the narrow circle of his small-town life, the German of 1800 could not begin to understand the driving metropolitan momentum of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence or of Rome in the great days of the Renaissance. He could not see how a Botticelli could tingle with nervous energy in every limb, and how religious piety already led a Perugino to reach backward toward an earlier form of art and to deliberately oppose the old and, according to him, worthier manner of the past to the young Florentines striving forward to the new…" (2d ed., Berlin: Georg Bondi, 1900, p. 224). It is hard to miss the similarity between this critique of the Nazarenes' allegedly idealized and tamed view of the Renaissance and Burckhardt's and Nietzsche's critique of the German neohumanists' idealized and tamed view of classical antiquity.
The theme of "Kraftlosigkeit" ("impotence") echoes through all the literature on the Nazarenes in the first half of the twentieth century. The nationalist, right-wing, anti-Semitic Henry Thode found fault with most of the Nazarenes on grounds not dissimilar to those of his arch-enemy, the liberal, modernizing, and francophile Meier-Graefe. Though Thode maintained, against Meier-Graefe, that truly German art seeks the inner essence of things and cannot be content to represent their sensuous appearance ("eine realistische Kunst," according to him "ist keine Kunst" ["a realist art is no art"]), he still found Overbeck "mild" (sanftgesinnt) and "lifeless" (kraftlos) and Philipp Veit "timid" (schwachmüthig). Peter Cornelius, in contrast, found favor in his eyes on account of his "energetic German feeling and powerful German imagination" (kraftvolles deutsches Gefühl und starke deutsche Phantasie) (Böcklin und Thoma: Acht Vorträge über neue deutsche Malerei [Heidelberg: Carl Winter's Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1905], 37-38, 75–76).
In his lectures at the University of Berlin in 1911, Heinrich Wölfflin declared that the viewer cannot but smile when he sees the frescoes at the Casa Bartholdy, "for there is nothing revolutionary about them, not even the freshness of spring, rather something stale, hackneyed, and faded" ("sie haben nichts Revolutionäres, sogar nichts Frühlingsfrisches, eher etwas Abgestandenes, Abgeblasstes") (Kunstgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts; Akademische Vorlesung, ed. Norbert Schmitz [Alfter: VDG Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften, 1993], 9). Menzel, in contrast, was admired for representing "movement, life, something of the endless agitation, the perpetuum mobile of the population of a great metropolis" ("Bewegung, Leben, ein Stück Unaufhörlichkeit, ein Stück des Perpetuum mobile einer Grossstadtbevölkerung") (18), and in a comment on Max Liebermann, Wölfflin announced that modern painting has to do not with ideas but with "movement, creations of air and light, the eternally beating waves of life" ("Bewegung, Geschöpfe von Luft und Licht, ewiger Wellenschlag des Lebens") (ibid.). Because in David painterly instinct and active involvement in the life of his nation overcame theoretical dogma, the French artist towers above his sickly, solitary, and excessively reflective German contemporary, Jakob Asmus Carstens (27). The glory of Delacroix was to have represented "life as such intensely experienced" (66).
Writing a decade or so later, just after the First World War, Hans Hildebrandt faulted Overbeck for having banished from his work "all passion and dynamic action, all harshness but also all strength" (Die Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts [Wildpark-Potsdam: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1924], 77). Paul Ferdinand Schmidt lamented that "a Faustian revolutionary drive was alive in the thinkers and poets, but not in the modest formats of the painters" and attributed the "mediocre eclecticism" of painters of religious subjects to the "inner weakness and spiritual void" of the established churches of the time. In the spirit of Nietzsche and other champions of "life" over dogma or even morality, he claimed that if the nineteenth-century church had had leaders as energetic as a Julius II or the Spanish Inquisitors, the art of the Führichs, the Steinles, and the Overbecks, would have been quite different (Biedermeier Malerei [Munich: Delphin Verlag, 1923], 166–68). In the catalogue of a major exhibition of Overbeck's work in his home town of Lübeck in 1928, the director of the Lübeck Museum, Georg Heise—who was to be dismissed from his post in 1933 because of his support of modernists like Nolde and Barlach—managed to praise the artist for remaining "true to himself." The final judgment, however, was reserved: "His energy drained away at an early stage." Even in the 1830s, his work was already the product of "thin-blooded aristocratic proficiency." In general, the Nazarenes were not bold enough to go through the "dark night of pain and suffering" in order to emerge stronger from the struggle. Their cast of mind was "pure, to be sure, but devoid of audacity, perilously narrow, often the product of inner weakness" (Die Malerei der deutschen Romantiker und Nazarener im besonderen Overbecks und seines Kreises, Introduction by Georg Heise [Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928], 10, 13).
The charge of weakness, softness, and sentimentality was not likely to be dropped during the Nazi period. On the occasion of the Overbeck exhibition in Lübeck in 1928, Kurt Karl Eberlein had still sung the praises of the Nazarenes on nationalist grounds: "Anyone who has not seen the glorious, radiant frescoes in the Dante, Tasso, and Ariosto rooms [of the Casino Massimo] can hardly imagine what this new art of the Nazarenes was capable of" (Heise, 19 [essay by Kurt Karl Eberlein]). At a time when Germany was torn by strife and war, he claimed, the Nazarenes, by withdrawing to Rome, had been able painstakingly to construct "in exile, on foreign soil, in the confines of a convent…a new idea of the nation and a new idea of humanity" (p. 22). In at least one respect, moreover—the value they placed on discipline and community—they were a model for a generation of artists eager to regain their balance after the turbulence of expressionism (soon to be characterized as "degenerate"):
I would only point to the fact that, just as after the storm of northern Romanticism, so we too, after the storm of northern Expressionism, find ourselves confronted by a young generation that unites scrupulously careful execution, quiet sobriety, and stylization of natural forms with a new artistic intention. The new, the inner Man is not yet fully reconstituted; there is still need for humanity, reverence, love; it is still the voice of the singer, not the word that is heard—and yet we have a strong sense that it is in this new art that the new, the good European, in whom Taboo and Tao, I and Thou, Life and Idea will be brought together in smiling harmony and reconciliation, will utter his first words. [p. 25]
By 1938, Eberlein had moved on to an explicitly National Socialist position. Acknowledging his debt to the Führer and other Nazi luminaries, such as Alfred Bäumler and Christoph Steding, he now distinguished in Romanticism "das Weiblich-Nehmende" and "das Männlich-Gebende," "das Sentimentale und das Naïve, das Feige und das Heldische, die Flucht und die Tat" ("womanly taking and manly giving," "the sentimental and the naïve, the cowardly and the heroic, flight and action"). Among the Romantics, it was especially necessary to separate "the discoverers from the seekers…and the fugitives from the vanguard. In everything there are the sick and the hale, but especially among the Romantics, for Romanticism is an end and a beginning, it is weakness and strength. One group fled from their own time and searched for treasure by digging in the past, since they were incapable of discovering the new. In their flight, they sought out the community and the Middle Ages. They owed their finds to their flight…. There can be passion in the rediscovery of what has been lost, but it always marks an end. The creative individual does not rediscover, for action presides over beginnings. Only he who has no fire in himself seeks it in ashes." What was found by the fugitives from their own time was indeed wonderful: the great German Volksgemeinschaft, the great "We" from which modern Germans had been cut off around 1530 "by the betrayal of the race." Nevertheless, the Gothic of "the cowards and the fugitives was a mark of weakness, a refuge, an escape into the community of the Middle Ages. Their flight from life was historicism. Every historicism is flight. Far, in contrast, from those weaklings whose loyalty to the Reich took only the form of study and learning, there stood the warriors and creators" (Caspar David Friedrich, der Landschaftsmaler: Ein Volksbuch Deutscher Kunst [Bielefeld and Leipzig: Belhagen & Klasing, 1939], pp. 11–120). Though Eberlein excluded the Nazarenes from the Romantic movement (13), it is obvious that he believed they had more in common with the "weaklings" than with the heroic "warriors." In its very excessiveness, Eberlein's text highlights the ideological character of a great deal of the art-historical discourse on the Nazarenes and the rarity of concrete analyses or discussions of particular works. Not surprisingly, in 1942, their art was dismissed in Hans Weigert's Geschichte der deutschen Kunst (Berlin: Propyläen Verlag) as "flau und blutlos, eine Kunst der Resignation" ("insipid and bloodless, an art of resignation") (p. 473).
It is only fair to conclude this overview of negative responses to the art of the Nazarenes with an endorsement of it from a surprising quarter. In April 1933, shortly after the National Socialists came to power in Germany, an exchange of letters between Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and Goebbels, the Nazi “Minister for Education of the People and Propaganda,” was published in several Berlin newspapers. Eager to retain the services of his Polish-Jewish first violin, Furtwängler maintained that there is only one line of demarcation in art, that between good and bad. Goebbels responded that he could not recognize only one line of demarcation. “Art must not only be good;” he wrote. “It must be conditioned by the needs of the people--or, to put it better, only an art that springs from the integral soul of the people can in the end be good and have meaning for the people for whom it was created. Art in an absolute sense, as liberal democracy knows it, has no right to exist” (Quoted by Roger Sessions, “Music and Nationalism,”Modern Music, November-December 1933, 11, pp. 3-13). Into the controversy sprang Nikolaus Pevsner, a.k.a. Sir Nicholas Pevsner, the great historian of art and architecture who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, but was then a beginning teacher of art history at Göttingen University with an uncertain future, as the child of immigrant Jewish parents, in the new Germany.
In two articles, one entitled “Kunst der Gegenwart und Kunst der Zukunft” (“Art of the Present and Art of the Future”) in the July 1933 number of the theological journal Zeitwende, and the other “Kunst und Staat” (“Art and State”) in the March 1934 issue of Der Türmer, a strongly nationalist magazine, Pevsner presented arguments generally more favorable to Goebbel’s position than to Furtwängler’s. In particular, he claimed that with the rise of Dutch painting in the seventeenth century an art market arose consisting of a mass of citizens with little structural unity or unity of taste. The Dutch artists’ community was likewise a swarm of the most heterogeneous individual personalities. Each individual painted whatever caught his fancy. As there was no guarantee that the work of any one artist would win approval, a proletariat of artists arose for the first time, and along with it the figure of the genius who is not understood by his society. Seventeenth-century Holland thus “anticipated a situation that became unavoidable throughout the entire Western world…in the nineteenth century.” In German Classicism and Romanticism, notably in the work of Friedrich Schiller, the artist was seen as divinely inspired, the educator of mankind. Art, therefore, should not serve, it should rule. “The sacred autonomy of art was thus established and its superiority to state and society proclaimed.” Beginning in the 1830s, however, “the triumph of individualism and democracy…became unstoppable. The Impressionist art of the last third of the century is its monstrous product,” Pevsner wrote. “Art was now no longer, as the educator of humanity, its highest ideal, but existed only for its own sake. That was the Gospel taught by Gautier, Verlaine, and Wilde. As far as painting was concerned, the only point of it was to reproduce the impressions nature made on an individual painter at a particular moment in time…Such an art could not be relevant to the state and could not be affected by a big idea. ‘Painters with big ideas are always bad painters,’ Max Liebermann [the great German Impressionist painter] was not ashamed to declare.”
In contrast, “all the great art of the Middle Ages served an end beyond itself.” So too did the Catholic art of the Baroque and French art of the Classical Age. The Nazarenes, Pevsner argued, attempted to return art to what in his view was its true place as an integral and essential part of the culture of a community. “Turning passionately around 1810 against the easy-going ‘liberal’ painting of the Rococo,” he declared, “the German Nazarene painters longed to serve.” The Nazarenes thus earned high marks from Pevsner for resisting what he judged the decadence of art, its transformation into a commodity created by autonmous individuals and designed to appeal to the individual user or purchaser. While supporting Goebbels in his debate with Furtwängler, it needs to be emphasized, Pevsner’s articles also expressed a view of art that was consistent with that of some contemporaries who were not only unsympathetic to National Socialism but persecuted under the National Socialist regime. Thus to Walter Gropius, founder of the celebrated Bauhaus school, “the complete building is the final aim of the visual arts,” the “noblest function” of which “was once the decoration of buildings.” He himself aspired to “conceive and create the new building of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will rise one day towards heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.” (“Proclamation from the Weimar Bauhaus 1919,” in Bauhaus 1919-28 [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1928, p.18)
Last modified 29 September 2016