JOHANN FRIEDRICH OVERBECK
The Triumph of Religion in the Arts
Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 892
392 × 392 cm
This monumental programmatic painting of the Nazarenes is closely associated with the history of the Städel’s founding. As an interpretation of art history, in the rooms of the new institute it was to serve as a means of instructing the gallery’s visitors and the students of the art school founded by Johann Friedrich Städel along with the museum in 1816. The commission went to Overbeck, “by far the greatest artist who ever lived” in the view of his Catholic contemporaries. Overbeck worked in Rome at the monastery of San Isidoro and wished to reform the arts by returning to the Bible and the works of the great Renaissance artists Raphael and Dürer. In this triumphal painting, more than a hundred artists are gathered round the Fountain of Life and pay homage to the Mother of God, led by King David and St. Luke. The artist depicts the emperor and the pope as patrons, monks as the educators of the young, and the Gothic cathedral as the noblest task of construction. This dogmatic conception of art was out of step with the atmosphere of change in the liberal bourgeois city. Upon its arrival in 1840, Overbeck’s backward-looking vision of the future touched off vehement criticism.