Art and the Cultural Politics of the ‘Medieval’ in the Weimar Republic

Debbie Lewer (University of Glasgow)

In 1931, George Grosz wrote: ‘I often feel as if we were living in an epoch similar to that of the waning Middle Ages.’ He also described his own ‘medieval means’ for giving what he called ‘a true picture of the current times.’

This paper will examine how members of the Weimar cultural avant-garde (artists, architects, writers, critics and theorists), and indeed – for different reasons – critics on the conservative and nationalist Right, formulated positions about contemporary German culture and political identity by engaging with the German culture and political identities of the Middle Ages and Reformation period. It proceeds from the conviction that this goes much further than artists’ interest in cathedrals or the art of Dürer, Grünewald or Cranach. It has to do with the rhetorics of inheritance, with the calling up of ancestral allegiances, with the changing cultural geographies of ‘Germany’ over time and with the mobilisation of an imagined past to address and admonish the realities of the modern present. Inasmuch as it involves vital political and popular sources, histories and traditions, it straddles both sides of what has been called the ‘Great Divide’ between high and mass culture.


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