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.
Reviews: '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
‘In this stunningly informative and boldly written book…, Cordula Grewe seeks to revise the historiography of the German Nazarene period (1808-62) [and] analyzes how the processes of religious iconography mediated and met the religious and philosophical needs of that nineteenth-century culture. … generously illustrated … with an intellectually rigorous and passionate tenor, Grewe's analyses … are absorbing and deliberative … written with intellectual breadth and considerable flair … readers interested in the larger questions of German cultural history will find much to learn from her material. … The strengths of the book seem to me to lie in its welcomed corrective approach, its erudite research, its range of detail, and its challenge to the historiography. Professor Grewe has made an excellent case for art historians to rethink the period, to boldly go beyond the canonical and to pay more attention to the origins of Nazarene art… This study will make an essential contribution to nineteenth-century art history.’ Material Religion
‘Scholars will be grateful for the meticulous analysis in Cordula Grewe's Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism, which demonstrates that 'any real understanding of European art's development in the nineteenth century must involve an understanding of the Nazarene movement'. … Grewe argues convincingly for the social and political relevance of the Nazarenes … [Her study] is invigorating, as it encourages the reevaluation of other movements such as the Neoclassical painting exemplified by David and Ingres. … Grewe's book is a most welcome addition to the growing scholarly literature about nineteenth-century religious art, and it should encourage further studies.’ CAA Reviews
‘... a scholarly, sophisticated, densely written monograph … meticulously researched and … insightful … this new study … provides the most informed, intelligent and penetrating commentary on the Nazarenes to date. … exceptionally alert to the visual theology … the author makes a powerful and convincing case for the Nazarenes creation of a 'new language for sacred art'.’ Art and Christianity
'[Grewe's] is a big book, handsomely produced with lavish illustrations of Nazarene paintings. But the real joy is the high quality of the reproductions of drawings and engravings, communicating the allure of Nazarene draughtsmanship. ... [A] meticulously researched book … [and] corrective history of painting the sacred … Grewe shuns the discipline's conventional confines. … Grewe shows up the limitations of a narrowly art-historical approach to Nazarene picture making. … Her rigorous and scholarly approach ... firmly places her investigation in the context of Romantic thought and culture and proves an unfaltering and erudite guide. She intrepidly delves into the most arcane typologies ... .Where Grewe excels is in her uncompromising acceptance and scrupulous analysis of the missionary zeal of Nazarene art. ... As the handmaiden of religion, art has got a story to tell and souls to catch. Grewe brilliantly charts the difficult paths taken in the pursuit of this mission: she accords the Nazarenes an 'important, if vexed place in the history of nineteenth-century art' (p.320). … The author's thorough exploration of Nazarene religious art makes available to the English-speaking world the fruits of a long-established scholarship conducted mostly in German. ... Often art historians fail to look beyond their own discipline towards an understanding of theological thought and operate within the limitations of their own language. Grewe is to be applauded for having burst the boundaries of both.' The Burlington Magazine
'Any real understanding of European art's development in the nineteenth century' insists Cordula Grewe at the beginning of this important book 'must involve an understanding of the Nazarene movement and its place within this development'. She doe