Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism

1st Edition

By Cordula Grewe


436 pages

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Hardback: 9780754606451
pub: 2009-10-21

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After a century of Rationalist scepticism and political upheaval, the nineteenth century awakened to a fierce battle between the forces of secularization and the crusaders of a Christian revival. From this battlefield arose an art movement that would become the torchbearer of a new religious art: Nazarenism. From its inception in the Lukasbund of 1809, this art was controversial. It nonetheless succeeded in becoming a lingua franca in religious circles throughout Europe, America, and the world at large. This is the first major study of the evolution, structure, and conceptual complexity of this archetypically nineteenth-century language of belief. The Nazarene quest for a modern religious idiom evolved around a return to pre-modern forms of biblical exegesis and the adaptation of traditional systems of iconography. Reflecting the era's historicist sensibility as much as the general revival of orthodoxy in the various Christian denominations, the Nazarenes responded with great acumen to pressing contemporary concerns. Consequently, the artists did not simply revive Christian iconography, but rather reconceptualized what it could do and say. This creativity and flexibility enabled them to intervene forcefully in key debates of post-revolutionary European society: the function of eroticism in a Christian life, the role of women and 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. What makes Nazarene art essentially Romantic is the meditation on the conditions of art-making inscribed into their appropriation and reinvention of artistic tradition. Far from being a reactionary move, this self-reflexivity expresses the modernity of Nazarene art. This study explores Nazarenism in a series of detailed excavations of central works in the Nazarene corpus produced between 1808 and the 1860s. The result is a book about the possibility of religious meaning in modern art. It will reinvigorate scholarship in the fields of nineteenth-century art, romanticism, and religion and the arts, and restore the Nazarene artists to their rightful place at the forefront of romantic art history.


'This subtle, thoroughly informed study of the Nazarenes, nineteenth-century Germany's most influential religious painters, is going to transform their stature among art historians, cultural historians, and scholars of religion. Grewe's book will become an important resource for understanding the international significance of the Nazarene painting for Christian art in Europe and North America, where it was widely admired as a model for devotional imagery. Long reviled among art critics and all but ignored by art historians outside of Germany, the group merits the penetrating and consistently thoughtful treatment it receives from Cordula Grewe.' David Morgan, Professor of Religion, Duke University, USA

'Overlooked and misunderstood, the Nazarene movement is nevertheless one of the truly pivotal episodes in the history of modern art in its long duration, and Grewe’s account is the most ambitious and incisive to date.' Joseph Leo Koerner, Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University, USA

’Recommended.’ Choice

'In this stunningly informative and boldly written book […], Cordula Grewe seeks to revise the historiography of the German Nazarene period (1808-62). …an essential contribution to nineteenth-century art history.' Material Religion

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; the great code of art: religious revival and the rebirth of pictorial meaning; Sulamith and Maria: erotic Mariology and the cult of friendship; Pietas and Vanitas: gender, moralization and allegory; The Seven Sacraments: romantic subjectivity and Catholic dogma; The Bible in Pictures: history lessons and popular culture; A family tree of German art: avant-garde, anti-Judaism and artistic identity; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Professor Cordula Grewe is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, USA.

About the Series

Histories of Vision

Histories of Vision
Art history is not only an historical discipline, it is also the visual study of works of art. There is no naturally given, self-evident and transparent link between the object, its perception, its representation and its functions. Images are cultural constructions with their own poetics and histories, but vision as well has its histories. The aim of this series is to reconstruct these histories. It is devoted to the study of works of art considered as ways of seeing, viewing practices, and the various codifications of visual perception connected with the arts and artistic theories through the ages. The series not only covers painting and sculpture, but also architecture. Its scope is not limited to Western art, but includes in particular the ways in which non-Western art has been perceived in Western art history.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / History / General