Until recently, the general judgment of the once admired and influential Nazarene painters of early-nineteenth-century Germany, among those who paid any attention to their work, was that in rejecting everything that came after the young Raphael and seeking inspiration in the Italian “primitives,” they had taken the wrong road and ended up in a cul-de-sac, in contrast to contemporaries such as Géricault and Delacroix, Constable and Turner, who had taken the road that led, without break, to modernity. To the Nazarenes, however, as to the neoclassical artists of the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (David, Flaxman, Carstens) and their theorist Winckelmann, going back meant going forward—beyond illusionism. The obscurity into which Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Peter Cornelius, and Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld have fallen raises questions about the degree to which the long dominant and ideologically loaded narrative of art history as a “development” toward modernity has determined not only how viewers today respond to works of art but what art they get to see.

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