Winner of the John Frederick Lewis Award for 2007
Friedrich Overbeck’s “Italia und Germania” (1811-1828) is a well-known image in its native Germany, where it is usually seen as an allegory of the perennial longing of German artists and poets for the beauty and harmony of the land “where the lemon tree blooms.” It is not so well known, outside specialist circles, that the earliest sketches for this iconic painting bore the title “Sulamith (the Shulamite of the Song of Solomon) and Maria” and formed part of a series of drawings and texts produced and shared by Overbeck and his close friend Franz Pforr, the young founders of the school of painters generally referred to as “Nazarenes.” Closely linked to the philosopher Friedrich Schlegel and his wife Dorothea, the daughter of the celebrated Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and a convert, along with her husband, to Roman Catholicism, the Nazarenes advocated the renewal of earlier and purer forms of art and religion and looked forward to a condition in which things that had been separated from their original unity—not only art and religion, but word and idea, poetry and philosophy, feminine and masculine, and, not least, Jews and Christians—would be brought together again, as Overbeck said, “in harmony and mutual respect.” The contextualization of Overbeck’s “Italia und Germania” in this essay reveals a painting that is a rich repository of meanings, an emblem not only of the sisterhood of North and South, the early German and early Italian traditions in art, but of the general Romantic longing for reconciliation, reunion, and the overcoming of historical alienation.
Lionel Gossman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at Princeton University. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, elected in 1996.
Lionel Gossman addresses a topic of general importance, which is the relationship between art, life, and religious belief. He has an impressive knowledge of the historical situation and philosophical background of the time. He gives excellent translations from original German sources that are not only accurate but may enable the Anglophone reader to truly grasp the spirit of the sources. This book serves as a thoughtful and elegantly written introduction to the way of thinking of one of the most important of the Nazarene painters.
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und neueste Kunstgeschichte
Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste
Lionel Gossman's study offers an important interpretation of Overbeck's painting. It treats the evolution of the Nazarene artists' preoccupation with religious issues in an engaging manner and offers a social-historical and theological context to Overbeck's painting by looking interestingly at a wide range of issues and contacts in his early Nazarene period. The book engages readers as it situates the painting in an innovative manner and touches on many interesting issues of the period.
Richard I. Cohen
The Hebrew University, Jerusalem
author of Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe