Art as History: Episodes in the Culture and Politics of Nineteenth-Century Germany

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9780691055411: Art as History: Episodes in the Culture and Politics of Nineteenth-Century Germany
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Paintings and graphics, novels and poems are historical sources as well as aesthetic objects. Artists themselves become historians when they interpret the pastby painting a historical scene, for instance, or by discussing earlier times in a novel. Artists both reflect and shape their environment. These concepts underlie Peter Paret's new study of Germany in the nineteenth century.


The book spans fifty years of German history, from the rise of liberalism in the 1830s to the Franco-Prussian War, German unification, and the fading of liberalism in the new empire. Each chapter treats one or more works of art or literature, and links the background, creation, and impact of these works to the politics of the time. A phase of the Revolution of 1848, for example, is illuminated by Alfred Rethel's woodcuts depicting civil strife as a medieval dance of death; a novel by Theodor Fontane suggests psychological inadequacies as a reason for Prussia's collapse before Napoleon and implies that modern Germany suffers from similar weaknesses.


On one level, Art as History is political history seen through the arts. On another level, works of art are discussed for their own sake. By paying attention to the ways society and politics interact with the artist's psychology and intentions, and with the changing characteristics of his discipline, we gain a deeper understanding of his aesthetic achievement.


Over a hundred reproductions of works of art and of contemporary newspaper illustrations are closely integrated into the text. Innovative in its fusion of narrative history with aesthetic and intellectual analysis, in its exploration of the interplay of history and the arts, and as a study of the artist in a changing world, the book helps us understand why Germany's vigorous bourgeois culture failed politically, and offers new perspectives on the rise of Prussia-Germany to great and flawed power.


Art as History is also being published in a German translation.


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