The Nazarenes Romantic Artists Who Challenged the Foundations of Classicism
Nazarenes (Nazarene), officially called the Brotherhood of St. Luke, is a union of German artists created at the beginning of the 19th century who rejected the traditions of classicism for the sake of romantic ideals. The Nazarene paintings and frescoes are mainly biblical and historical subjects that were created under the influence of the masters of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance. The work of the Brotherhood had a significant impact on the subsequent representatives of romanticism.
The Nazarenes, like other educated Germans and Austrians at the beginning of the 19th century, were disappointed with reality and contemplated the renewal of society. They looked for ways to revival in the glorious past, turning to the spiritual and cultural values of the Middle Ages. There were reasons for the decadent sentiments: in 1806, Napoleon conquered Prussia the largest and last of the free German states. Students of the Imperial Academy of Arts were also dissatisfied with the curriculum, in which the technique was studied, but there was no room for creative expression.
The Nazarenes officially united in the Brotherhood of Saint Luke on July 10, 1809, vowing to devote themselves to the search for truth and the struggle against lifeless academism. Before that, they met regularly to discuss art. At first, two painters became friends:
- Johann Friedrich Overbeck and Franz Pforr.
Soon they were joined by four more young artists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland:
- Josef Wintergerst (1783-1867)
- Johann Konrad Hottinger, 1776-1851;
- Ludwig Vogel (1788-1879);
- Joseph Sutter (1781-1866).
Passion for new ideas did not go well with training at the Academy, and in 1810 Overbeck was expelled. Then the Nazarenes moved to Rome, also occupied by Napoleonic forces. The artists found the monastery of San Isidoro, abolished by the new government and abandoned, where they began to lead the life of hermits. They slept in cells, kept a common household, discussed painting, read Christian and philosophical books.
Considering Raffaello Santi, Albrecht Dürer and other old masters as role models, members of the Brotherhood even copied their appearance. This is how the nickname “Nazarenes” was assigned to the artists by the name of the hairstyle with long hair and parted hair. Gradually new participants joined them, because many German painters came to Rome.
Here are some of the most significant followers of the Brotherhood:
- Peter von Cornelius (1783-1867)
- Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862)
- Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839)
- Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872);
- Philip Veit (Philipp Veit; 1793-1877);
- Karl Philipp Fohr (1795-1818);
- Franz Ludwig Catel (1778-1856).
The artists left the monastery after the death of Franz Pforr in 1812, but still lived in Rome and remained true to their ideals. Gradually they became known both in Italy and at home, and along with fame came success. A significant event was the painting of the house of the Prussian consul Jakob Salomon Bartholdy, which the Nazarenes performed jointly. They restored the traditions of fresco painting forgotten among German masters, taking the work of Raphael as a model, since they considered monumental painting to be the highest form of art.
The painting was completed in 1817, and even the Crown Prince, the future King Ludwig I of Bavaria, came to the celebration organized on this occasion. Subsequently, he invited many of the Nazarenes to Munich and offered them prominent court posts. So in the 20s and 30s of the XIX century, the Brotherhood of St. Luke began to disintegrate. Its members returned to their homeland and eventually joined the academics. Overbeck alone rejected all the lucrative offers and remained in Italy for the rest of his life.
In the era of Impressionism, the Nazarene movement exhausted itself, and gradually it was forgotten. Their serious study and new discovery took place in the second half of the 20th century. Currently, there is no doubt that the Nazarenes seriously influenced the neo-romanticists and Symbolists of the second half of the 19th century. Including the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England, the Lyons school in France and the early work of Alexander Ivanov in Russia.
The main principles of the Nazarenes
The main principles of the Nazarenes In contrast to the neoclassical artists who turned to antiquity, the Nazarenes saw their ideal of morality and spirituality in the patriarchal Middle Ages. They strove to lead a deeply moral lifestyle, combining creativity with reflection and prayer. Here are the main ideas of the Brotherhood of Saint Luke:
The Nazarenes saw three paths of development in art: imitation of nature, ideal and imagination. The first path was embodied by Dürer, the second by Raphael, the third by Michelangelo Buonarroti. These directions need to be reconciled and combined.
For religious reasons, the painters refused to study anatomy from the bodies of the dead and almost never resorted to the services of models. A rare exception is Vittoria Caldoni, known for her modesty.
Representatives of the Brotherhood preferred to work in cells, rather than paint from life. They sought to portray their feelings, not nature. Sometimes they posed for each other to work out intricate draperies on clothes.
The most famous paintings and frescoes of the Nazarenes
The works of this artistic group are distinguished by their complex composition and the predominance of drawing over color. Although the artists opposed themselves to the classicists, they retained many academic attitudes, including the conventional coloring and imitation of the best masters of the past. Here are the most famous paintings of the Nazarenes:
- Frescoes in the house of the Consul of Prussia Bartholdi (1816-1817). The cycle is dedicated to the life of Joseph from the Old Testament. The Nazarenes created it jointly, but the most interesting are the works of Cornelius and Overbeck.
- Frescoes in the villa of the Marquis Carlo Massimo (1819-1830). The series is based on works by Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and others.
- “Italy and Germany” by Friedrich Overbeck (1811-1828). This is an allegory of friendship between the two countries and the desire to combine the best features of Italian and German painting.