Staging/Inventing Nations: Art, Renaissances and Identities of Patrimony in Early 20th-century Europe

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Juliet Simpson, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University / Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK


    This paper explores key, yet narratives of European cultural heritage in creating new national and transnational identities, from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. Discussion focuses in particular on the neglected importance of Germanic pre-modern and Renaissance projections of a diverse cultural inheritance, looking at significant ways via their revivals, displays and reinventions in ‘tournant de siècle’ Europe were to shape amplified ideas of ‘national’ patrimony. Pivotally, this would highlight ‘renaissance’ as a key discourse of an interconnected European heritage, including its staging and relationship with modern art. My focus is two case-studies pivotal to understanding how such period displays of heritage also project developed showcases for new national consciousness and its pan-European dissemination: the 1899 Dresden Lucas Cranach exhibition and the 1904 Düsseldorf German so-called ‘primitive’ masters show. Discussion investigates the claims of each to present new types of heritage exhibitions, foregrounding the centrality of a visual culture from German-speaking Europe and a perception of German Renaissance as equal to its Italian and Netherlandish counterparts. While on one hand, these aim to ‘rediscover’ an authentic, purer pre- and early modern so-called ‘primitive’ artistic past. On the other, claims for ‘authenticity’ are underpinned by more complex modern museal innovations, that is: to stage and reinvent a highly selective collecting and imagery of heritage, mixing the Germanic and Mediterranean, mediatized via the tools of early 20th-century media, to re-create these pasts and their panoramic possibilities as cultural and political drivers for the present. The conclusions consider the extent to which such recreations of Germanic, early Renaissance patrimony would give heightened prominence to so-called ‘primitive’ artistic heritage in developing spectacles of national ambition. Yet, in turn, these also become appropriated for early 20th-century ‘trans-national’ cultural identity-construction, implicated in reframing potent narratives and images of European cultural modernity and its international projections.