Held und Antiheld : Leitfiguren antiker Autoren in Grafikzyklen von Max Slevogt und Lovis Corinth

  • Hero and antihero : leading figures of antique authors in portfolios of Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth

Löschenberger, Nikola; Markschies, Alexander (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : Publikationsserver der RWTH Aachen University (2012)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Aachen, Techn. Hochsch., Diss., 2012

Abstract

In art history, the rupture between two interceding styles is seldom as sharp as between classicism and modern art. The striving for the human ideal body, presumed as timeless, loses its influence. Many recently published studies show the persisting influence of antiquity on avant-garde art in the beginning 20th century. Picasso, Matisse and others are well known to have used motives from antiquity, and their way to find a fresh view on classical topics. Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth are well known for huge history paintings. Also in graphic arts, they created portfolios based on antique literature. These series of graphic art prove that Slevogt and Corinth read the chosen authors closely. The sequence of graphics narrates a story in itself, as the book they are based on. Today quite forgotten, portfolios with graphic art were a form of art with characteristics of mass media. With high circulation and widespread reception between many collectors portfolios can be platforms for artists striving for publicity. Portfolios with graphic art can be attributed to history painting, because they also discuss actual topics. Prominent in this genre is the representation of war, a number one theme to be transformed by art from the beginning of mankind. At the turn of the century, notably German artists used this art form to deal with antiquity. Max Slevogt published a series of 15 lithographs on Achill, the protagonist of the Iliad in 1907 at the Munich publisher A. Lange. Because of the war, the following 9 lithographs on Hector are published by Bruno Cassirer in 1921. Lovis Corinth edited his portfolio of 15 etchings on the Cena trimalchionis by Petronius in 1919 at F. Bruckmann in Munich. All three works focus on a single protagonist. Slevogt chooses the two enemies Achill and Hector, finding himself in a long tradition of European history of art. Every decade developed new heroes and enriches the Iliad on a new interpretation, which reveals also the characteristics of art at that current time. The changes in interpretation of the literature referred to also show the significance of war as a main topic in society. His preliminary studies show how he strives to find a new access to traditional scenes as Achill’s abuse on Hector’s body. But Slevogt also chooses previously never represented scenes of the Iliad. So he builds a pattern of both characters which are not free from criticism. Slevogt does not ignore his prominent predecessors in art history. He refers openly to some artists and transforms their work. In other works of his own, Slevogt devotes himself to World War I, referring to antiquity again. He also worked upon another epic on archaic war, The Ring of the Nibelung. In his series of woodcuts he develops the fate of Hagen. As in his work with Achill and Hector he based his compositions on classicistic works of art. Slevogt scrutinizes the heroes of epics as a role he does not claim for himself. He sees himself as a chronographer who does not try to transgress the limits between subject and object. Unlike Corinth, whose work can be described as a permanent quest for the artist’s self. His self-portraits as a warrior show art at its prey, in society he takes the part of a highly artificial primitivism. In his sixties, he chose Trimalchio to reflect on his oeuvre and himself hiding between false identities. As a professor for art, Corinth reacts on artists of Paris avant-garde. The Satyricon, probably written by Petronius, was seldom illustrated. These few either show contemporary feasts, mostly as a sardonic comment, or they try an archeological reconstruction of roman life. But Corinth does very much more than his few predecessors. He weaves a pattern of quotations: of antique art, mostly from Berlin Museums, his own oeuvre and famous artists as Rubens. He even refers to Picasso and Matisse. Corinth uses the role of Trimalchio, a rather vulgar person, to reflect on the Berlin art market and French avant-garde art. So he uses two following dance scenes to play with an iconic tradition. Even at risk of being regarded as a philistine (and prevented by his self-dramatization) Corinth frees himself from all conventions. At the mock deathbed of Trimalchio the artist claims immortality. His insouciant use of antique sources can also to be found in Corinth’s paintings. Here he adopts the role of Dionysus, saving art. The artist, viewer and art appear in his oeuvre as equals and lovers. Corinth satirizes the ever-present censorship in Venuswagen, up to erotic art in Liebschaften des Zeus. Both artists find a new approach to Antiquity by heroes and antiheroes of literature. Slevogt frees Achill and Hector from long-living stereotypes and comments likewise on contemporary enthusiasm for war and the disillusion at the beginning and end of World War I. Freeing the Iliad from idealistic tendencies he prepares the ground for Corinth’s playful interpretation of antiquity as a mirror for himself.

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