The institutionalization of those same religious revival movements that had once fostered ecumenical processes now gave birth to a new awareness of confessional identity. Conflict among Protestants, Catholics and Jews became a key feature of nineteenth-century German political and cultural life. Identity politics turned into exclusionary tactics and even, especially with respect to the Jewish minority, into violence. The 1820s and 1830s witnessed the rapid rise of Catholic ultramontanism and a new orthodoxy in Protestantism. These trends, in turn, engendered an increasing hatred between the two major confessions, a hatred that since the Reformation had always slumbered just beneath the surface of Christian culture. The united stance against the outside attack of unbelief and atheism crumbled the moment the Christian community turned its gaze inward. Inevitably, the Nazarenes, too, faced this abyss that fractured the unity of the Christian faith.

The Nazarenes’ reactions to the religious divide differed widely, from the combatively partisan posture of the ardent Catholic convert Overbeck to the conciliatory irenicism of the convinced Protestant Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Of course, these reactions were not fixed. They evolved and became more differentiated throughout the six decades covered in this book. By and large, the artists’ overall development reflected the arc and ensuing pressures of the era’s confessionalization, as their art shifted from poetic evocation to doctrinal exactitude. This shift was inscribed into a larger move from private to public. Certainly, a missionary impulse to reform not just art but society as well sparked the Nazarene program from the beginning. But in its earliest phase, the artists’ perspective was still determined by an emphatically subjective, personal lens. The more they matured, the more carefully they came to consider questions of effectiveness and mass appeal. Subject matter and stylistic editing came to function as educational tools, as artists reduced (although they did not erase entirely) the inscription of self and autobiography. The book traces this trajectory, exploring the specificity of religious expression represented in and by Nazarene art. What emerges is a breadth of themes highly topical in their day: the function of eroticism in a Christian life, the role of women, the social question, devotional practice and the nature of the Church, childhood education and bible study, and the burning issue of anti-Judaism and modern anti-Semitism.


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

Last modified 11 July 2016