Friedrich Schlegel and the Romantic Iconic Turn
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My dissertation project examines the rediscovery of the medieval devotional image and the Byzantine iconic tradition in German Romanticism. Tracing the contours and political implications of a Romantic iconic turn in the aesthetics of Friedrich Schlegel and the painting of Caspar David Friedrich, my dissertation concentrates on a countermovement within the German Romantic tradition that sought to reconfigure the medium of painting at the moment of its institutionalization. By seeking to restore the medieval religious image as an alternative to the secular conception of autonomous painting, I argue that the Romantic iconic turn was an attempt to reestablish the modern discourse of painting on a different ontological footing while simultaneously reconfiguring its history, resituating the German school of painting in a historical lineage that had its origin in the iconic tradition of medieval Byzantium. As such, I demonstrate that the Romantic iconic turn coincides with the first positive appraisal of Byzantine art in modern European history, which ultimately had no other aim than tounleash the image’s religious and political power. This dissertation thus concludes by arguing that the Romantic iconic turn was motivated by a counter-revolutionary politics that sought to undermine the secular underpinnings of European visual culture. Reinscribing the image within an economic-theological framework that derived from the work of the Early Church Fathers, I argue that the Romantic iconic turn was ultimately informed by a nationalistic agenda that sought to reintegrate the domains of art and life while reconfiguring the medium of painting as a principal instrument of governmental power.
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