Arnold Witte on German Baroque and ‘Sonderrokoko’

German Baroque and ‘Sonderrokoko’:  canonising and ‘nationalising’ the arts in Germany during the long nineteenth century

Review of:

Ute Engel – Stil und Nation. Barockforschung und deutsche Kunstgeschichte (ca. 1830-1930), Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2018, 798 pp, hbk, € 128,- ISBN 978-3-7705-5492-8

Arnold Witte ( University of Amsterdam and the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 21/AW1

Abstract: In her book on the historiography of German Baroque and Rococo art during the period 1830-1930, Ute Engel discusses how the rediscovery of the German Baroque led to the canonization of many monuments and artists. She argues that, although there was a growing tendency toward nationalist rhetoric in the long nineteenth century, especially after 1870,  no consistent or coherent impact of it on art history can be discerned. This leaves open the issue how art historical discourse was related to nationalism; whether the academic informed the political discourse, as is sometimes argued, or vice versa. What does become clear in Engel’s book is firstly that not so much the Baroque but especially the Rococo became identified with ‘Germanness’. Secondly, it shows that there was a growing tendency not toward a pan-German concept of style, but toward a regional approach of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century art – so Bavarian and Prussian became almost more important categories for art historical discourse than mere ‘Germanness’. 

Key words: Baroque and Rococo painting and architecture, Germany, Austria, 19th-century nationalism