Leo von Klenze (1784–1864), View of the Walhalla Overlooking Donaustauf and Regensburg, 1830, watercolour and pencil on paper, 20.8cm x 29.2 cm Hamburger Kunsthalle Photo: © bpk / Hamburger Kunsthalle / Christoph Irrgang

1842 – The Art History of Handbooks and Anachronic Icons

Dan Karlholm, Professor of Art History, Södertörn University, Stockholm

Also published in Susanna Pettersson (ed.), Inspiration – Iconic Works. Ateneum Publications Vol. 132. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020. Transl. Bettina Schultz, 87–96

On 18 October 1842 the Greek temple high above the Bavarian river bed was completed. Floating by on the Danube you can lift your gaze and see what looks like a sparkling white version of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens. The aim of Ludwig I of Bavaria in having it built was to create a worthy space for the German spirit, founded on the German-speaking countries’ linguistic community in the wake of the humiliating war against France. Its architect Leo von Klenze (1784–1864), who also designed the Glyptothek and Alte Pinakothek in Munich, wanted to let the outer grandeur of this monument, this Walhalla outside Regensburg, mirror its inner, spiritual greatness[1] – Doric temple on the outside, the home of the Old Norse gods by name, and on the inside a memorial dedicated to German intellectuals. Initially, around 170 neoclassical marble busts lined the walls but the number has increased over time and continues to increase.[2] A monument, memorial, heathen temple, as well as a kind of deifying museum for dead white Germans. The reason why this ‘hall of fame’ was received with mixed feelings was probably above all aesthetic. Something felt wrong with this pastiche, even for many of those who believed that the Germanic spirit was based on the Greek. Its topicality can, however, be described as ‘historical’, which the painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach sometime later described as the only ‘contemporary’.[3] For the budding art historians, however, the monument was a challenge to the newly established explanatory model that proclaimed that art is a symbiosis between content and form, time and place, spirit and materiality.

[1] Leo von Klenze. Walhalla in artistischer und technischer Beziehung. München: Literarisch-artistische Anstalt, 1842.

[2] Adrian von Buttlar. Leo von Klenze: Leben – Werk – Vision. München: Beck, 1999, 140–64.

[3] See Dan Karlholm. Art of Illusion: The Representation of Art History in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Beyond. Bern: Peter Lang, 2004, chap. 4.

Featured image: Leo von Klenze, View of the Walhalla Overlooking Donaustauf and Regensburg, 1830, watercolour and pencil on paper, 20.8cm x 29.2cm.
Hamburger Kunsthalle
Photo: © bpk / Hamburger Kunsthalle / Christoph Irrgang

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