Commemoration and National Formation: Artists’ Monuments in the Nineteenth Century

Auteur / Author: 
Anja GREBE (Department of Medieval Art History, University of Bamberg, Allemagne)
Jeudi 25 Août 2011 - 8:30
14-1. Real Monuments


Despite its ideals of interiority and individuality, Romanticism was highly political. Contemporary to the formation of the modern nations, it tried to tie the individual to a supposed “national being” which was proclaimed both as the natural bound and the ultimate reason of existence. Never before, art and culture have played such an important role in the formation and transmission of political ideas with regard to the whole society. Here, artists’ monuments seem to play a crucial role, as the commemoration of “neutral” individuals was all too often (mis)used to propagate highly ideological ambitions. They were monuments of a celebrated artist, but also memorials of an imaginary “golden past” personified in the figure of the artist.


During the Romantic period, we witness the installation of the first monuments of artists, who are considered as national heroes, like Dürer in Germany, Rembrandt in Holland, Rubens in Belgium, and Raffael in Italy. Their (often competitive) “monumentalization” is less due to their artistry already praised by former generations. Instead, they are considered as incarnations of national and even racial virtues. As in the case of Albrecht Dürer, these supposed characteristics are seldom found in the respective biographies but through a tendentious reading of their works of art.


My paper is based on the analysis of the monuments themselves, but also the pictorial documentary as well written sources such as poems, newspaper articles and official speeches. Texts and images are closely interrelated, as it is mainly by the written and spoken word that the monuments and the artists they celebrated were literally enacted and revived in order to serve for various and very often ideological issues.