German Essays Art History

German Essays Art History-50
Between the start of the Franco-Prussian War and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, art historians in Germany and France were studying the Italian Renaissance and the Gothic monuments of the Middle Ages.Passini’s recent book analyses the role of French and German nationalism in the shaping of art history.

Between the start of the Franco-Prussian War and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, art historians in Germany and France were studying the Italian Renaissance and the Gothic monuments of the Middle Ages.Passini’s recent book analyses the role of French and German nationalism in the shaping of art history.

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Speculations along this line could lead to excesses as bad as Mâle’s, for example Worringer’s pernicious (and unhelpful) claim that the northern Baroque was “the awakening in a different guise of the suppressed Gothic will” (184-185).

The issue was not just academic, but trenchant; the Gothic was implicated directly in the political and military conflict between France and Germany, notably in the attacks on Reims cathedral during the First World War.

Passini explores these issues by looking in detail at selected texts by a range of art historians; she also analyzes a few museum exhibitions.

She thus considers Louis Courajod’s attempt to define a Franco-Flemish renaissance that predated the Italian and Henry Thode’s claim (contra Burckhardt) that the Renaissance was primarily Christian and thus not a sharp break from the medieval heritage that preceded it.

That prediction is confirmed by virtually every one of the book’s sentences; the first can stand for the whole: “It is difficult to speak of German art.” but her study is much more complex and nuanced. The book, if a non-native speaker of French is permitted to judge, is exceptionally clearly written, perhaps because Passini composed it in Italian (it was originally a thesis from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa) and then translated it herself.

Much more significant is the clarity with which she has structured her presentation.The book’s first half looks at how the art historians Passini studies understood the Renaissance.This is an excellent litmus test; not only was that field the discipline’s most prestigious for most of the art historians about whom Passini writes, but because the Renaissance was usually thought to have been centered in Italy, it was not a simple subject for nationalistically-minded art historians north of the Alps.Was it basically a classical style or fundamentally anti-classical?Was it coherent or was the late Gothic a different (perhaps characteristically German) Sondergotik opposed to the classical French high Gothic?The second half of Passini’s book shifts the geographical and chronological focus from the Italian Renaissance to the French and German Middle Ages; in it, Passini studies the understanding of the Gothic between 18.Again, the choice of subject, while relatively narrow, is inspired.Such literal cases of a building shifting sides were rare, but the two countries had long argued about which gave birth to the Gothic, which was regarded as the most prestigious and distinguished northern European style and thus parallel (or opposed) to Greco-Roman classicism and its Renaissance avatar.In an art-historical age in which style was the dominant issue, the Gothic was a rich topic., wrote a history of French or German art in the Renaissance and modern eras was obliged to take a stand, more or less explicit, on the role of Italy in that history.It was against the norm of Italian art and the paradigmatic quality of the historical narrative about it that a “national” art history was established in France and Germany. Were there national versions of the Renaissance in France and Germany?

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