Those were beautiful, magnificent times, when Europe was a Christian land. When one common interest joined the most distant provinces of this vast spiritual empire. 
– Novalis, 1799

Was Christendom ever so unified? A hundred cathedrals bear testament to Novalis’ vast spiritual empire, like the old Roman forts, marking the domain of Christ and Church.

Art itself cannot deviate from its original function, …, of glorifying religion and revealings it mysteries in a manner still more beautiful and lucid than can ever be achieved with the written word.
– Schlegel, 1804

Art, too, was predominately religious. Schlegel identifies its primary and original function as glorifying religion, using an accessible medium to encourage wonderment and devotion in its viewers and also to clarify and convey religious meaning.

Rubens, The Miracles of St Francis Xavier, 1617
Rubens, The Miracles of St Francis Xavier, 1617

Even after the Enlightenment, religion was an important theme for Romanticists, who were inspired by Novalis and Schlegel. For the Viennese-dominated Nazarene movement return to the medieval was a main theme, which included its religious imagery.

Führich, Jacob encountering Rachel, 1836
Führich, Jacob encountering Rachel, 1836

What common interests join Europe now?

Flicking through the channels in my Salzburg hotel room, I counted nine European-based Turkish-language stations. Austria’s history is defined by its struggle against the invading Turkish empire, now its history is forgotten. For none of the young Viennese I’ve spoken to has the year 1683 registered as significant, or even the general context of those events.

And what has happened to the art?

Anselm Feuerbach, Professor of History Painting at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, 1873-1877
Anselm Feuerbach, Professor of History Painting at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, 1873-1877
1993, Hans Zobernig
Hans Zobernig, since 2000 Professor of Sculpture at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts

One thought on “Christendom”

  1. The young can’t be blamed for their ignorance of their country’s history so much as those who decided the syllabus and taught it. The modern ‘art’ of the type you include here appalls me also. I think the ‘artist’ is ridiculing anyone who thinks it is art. If he presumes to be ‘challenging’ us, he is arrogant (and repetitive). A ‘readymade’ of found, pre-made materials may be art if it is in some way, intelligently, skilfully transformed. Picasso’s Head of a Bull that used a bicycle seat and handlebars qualifies, not as great art, but in a whimsical, transient way. Not all art needs to, or is intended, to last millenia. This Bull would have been nothing with Joe Blogs name on it, however, yet once Picasso’s great paintings had made his name, then anything to which he attached is name qualified. Look at his early work and one knows he can paint. This prof of sculpture sneering at us from cardboard boxes probably couldn’t draw a recognisable tree or horse. No actual skills as an artist ever demonstrated. Probably has contempt for what he lacks. Yet not everything that displays technical virtuosity is great art! Trying to re-gain the past is backward looking and, well, doesn’t speak helpfully to the presn generation or help humanity’s future. Yet I am now more sympathetic to the Pre-Raphaelites than I used to be. They did have technical skill, were usually beautiful, and also were saying something about mid-19th England and its industrialisation. They weren’t simply glorifying an imagined past of knights and auburn damsels in long gowns.

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