Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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Editorial: Emotional Objects – Northern Renaissance Afterlives in Object, Image and Word



[1] In 1920 Louis Gillet, the French art historian and internationalist published a rousing article defending the repatriation of panels from the Van Eycks’ Ghent Altarpiece from Germany to Belgium as ‘un drapeau’. His ensign of a Northern patrimony pitched as an emotive call for a different cultural ‘belonging’ post-1918 was part of a pattern. Jean Fouquet’s Melun Diptych was vaunted as both a ‘jewel’, yet the opprobrium of France. At its most charged was the identification of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece with extreme war trauma, bodily and mental distress during its 1918-19 Munich display. Yet these Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’ and their objects remain under-explored. This special issue aims to develop new knowledge of how these and other responses to the Northern Renaissance (in the period spanning the 1870s-1920s) become activated via objects, images and words in potently emotive contexts of reception, viewing, collecting, imagining, image transfer and cultural memory-making to negotiate deep conflicts of the present.

[2] Our key areas of focus explore the significance of new histories, narratives and emblems of Northern Renaissance visual, material and literary cultures, as well as Northern Renaissance cultural, political and religious legacies. In particular, this issue aims to open new knowledge of their entwining with key early twentieth-century cultural modernities, and their entanglements with Northern Renaissance artists, histories and memory sites as objects of pathos. Each of the seven articles in this JNR special issue illuminates, via specific, yet interlinked Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’, new perspectives and approaches relating to their pivotal importance for how we expand understanding of ‘canonicity’; uses of history; collecting-imaging Northern pasts; identities of nation and internationalism and re-imagining cultural modernity. Indeed, pivotal for this issue is to bring to new attention the neglected emotional potencies of these Northern Renaissance legacies in objects, images and words, through their ‘rediscoveries’, displays, staging, writing, ekphrases, materialities and re-imaginings in Europe and internationally. Further, we consider expanded constructs of ‘Renaissance’ (German, Netherlandish, Belgian, French, central European) and their entanglements in mediating often contested identity-constructions, and an emotional politics of cultural reception and uncanny memory, particularly in the writings of Aby Warburg and his contemporaries, from the early 1900s to the close of the Weimar Republic. Taken together, the core of ambition of this issue is to shed light on the overlooked significance and interventions of these Northern Renaissance emotional legacies and afterlives in mediating the most urgent and conflicted realities of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art, culture and politics.

Framing Northern Renaissance Afterlives

[3] Histories are not neutral; Renaissances are entwined with emotional acts, as much as cultural, social and political ‘civilizing’ processes. In his landmark The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), a high water-mark for nineteenth-century constructs of ‘Renaissance’, Jacob Burckhardt dismissed Northern Europe on the grounds that the ‘despotism’ which nourished the Renaissance individual found its fullest expression in the Italy, not the North, of both tyrants and poets; Condottiere and Dante (Burckhardt 1981: 82). Yet, for Burckhardt, the art of the Renaissance State, the poet’s and the artist’s objects, project their brilliance through the despotic. Burckhardt may have been wrong about Northern Europe (as countless scholars have shown: Le Goff 2007), arguably less so in his central insight about power and its objects. Emotion is power; power is an emotional business. The power of art, of its objects, engages the deepest passions, cultural, political and human, most potently when questions of legacy, memory and ownership are at stake.

[4] This issue is the developed outcome of the research themes of the international conference held at the Warburg Institute on ‘Emotional Objects: Northern Renaissance Afterlives in Objects, Images and Words, 1880s-1920s’ in April 2021. At its core, is the question of the centrality of a Northern Renaissance artistic and cultural legacy and memory for late nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century historians, artists, writers and collectors. Indeed, the outcomes distilled in this special issue illuminate demonstrable ways in which the Northern Renaissance, so far from being marginal (as it appeared for Burckhardt), was the equal object of passionate political and cultural focus as Italy, about modern nation-making and its ambitions, about Empires and their shadows, and, too, as equally intertwined with the period’s key cultural modernities and their emotional potencies. Our interest in the ‘emotional objects’ of the Northern Renaissance afterlives is a pivotal, unifying theme developed in the contributions for this issue. To the central perception that history-making and reception are entangled with emotional processes (Rampley 2021; Lynch and Broomhall 2021; Maddern, McEwan and Scott 2018), and these become heightened when constructs of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’ are in contest, the new discoveries addressed by this issue’s contributors build on a growing field of enquiry in art, cultural, historical and material studies in relation to cultural expression approached from the point of view of body, performance, ritual, personification and affects (Kodres and Mänd 2013; Melion and Ramakers 2016). The Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’ explored here are as much about objects as histories and actors, objects of devotion, delight, play, craving, war, trauma, peace, indecency, obsession, arousal, violence, consolation. In short, what is addressed as pivotal is by what means, and perhaps more importantly, why and how the Northern Renaissance objects of our concern, develop effects of presence that engage multiple (and hidden) registers of artistic, cultural, social and embodied response that change their meaning-production for their viewers, readers, and for the histories, perceptions and imaginaries built on them.

[5] This is also about modernity. Our focus on bringing to attention new perspectives on Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’ in expanded reception and memory contexts develops insights into rich interactions between the uses of Northern Renaissance memory sites and their objects as significant, yet overlooked, creative inspirations for artists and literary writers at the fin de siècle to the 1920s. Of import is deeper examination of the very question and meaning of historical, cultural, aesthetic and material ‘presence’ – a question that, as explored in this issue, offers new approaches to reception as a dynamic force-field of relations that encompasses shifts in human-object-social (anthropological, affective) as well as cultural-historical processes (textual/narrative, hermeneutic, symbolic). The presence of Northern Renaissance art, the fluidity and debated significance of the Northern Renaissance as a geo-cultural construct (Heard and Whitaker 2013: 16), and as a contested legacy (crossing boundaries of periodicity, Gothic-Renaissance-Reformation cultures and confessional – Catholic-Protestant), manifests beyond tropism. It figures as a persistent presence – as a touchstone for new cultural imaginaries and identities of ‘tradition’, voice, alterity, the uncanny, spirit, expression and bodily pathos as key vehicles for visual and literary modernisms in negotiating ‘difference’, from the prints of Max Klinger, Ernst Barlach’s sculptures, to the poetry of Marianne Moore explored below. In each instance, as the individual contributions bring to light, what is in play, is the capacity of the Northern Renaissance object, as well as its image, memory and practice to provoke ambiguity, to unsettle convention, to draw out, amplify inwardness; to body forth the unseen, unvoiced emotion.

[6] Indeed, the topic of this special issue, the emotional power of Northern Renaissance objects, images and their afterlives, foregrounds scope for expanded interdisciplinary dialogue about the power of pasts to become present through multi-layered interactions between historical, artifactual, textual and emotional projections. As the contributions demonstrate, the image-production of a Northern Renaissance memory and its objects becomes equally pivotal to its sites of cultural and political modernity as its actors and their histories: images amplified by their interlinked relationships with ‘objects as portals’ (Ulrich, Gaskell, Schechner, Carter 2015: 164), and their verbal/textual evocations to become suggestively ‘animate’ in ways that exceed their ‘objecthood’ (Van Eck, Van Gastel & Van Kessel 2014: 10-11). Thus, a key focus of our interest is the entwining of reception and new ekphrastic practices that evoke Northern Renaissance art works as powerfully expanded modalities of embodied and emotional, as well as cultural, encounter. A prominent example of such ekphrastic engagements with potently emotional Renaissance histories and objects is Aby Warburg’s analysis of Albrecht Dürer’s famous engraving, Melencholia I, perceived as the ‘nucleus’ of subsequent treatments of the idea of melancholy to the present (Wedepohl 2015: 29). Even so, Dürer’s Melencholia I (Fig. 1), as well as other major works in his graphic output, including his Knight, Death and the Devil, and Apocalypse cycle (1498) discussed by contributors, inspired a plethora of emotional and ekphrastic negotiations of their affective intensity, notably by Jules Michelet, Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and by others, as for example, Paul Westheim’s and Heinrich Wölfflin’s explored in this issue, and Marianne Moore’s discussed below. They attest to manifold ways in which the ‘afterlives’ of Northern Renaissance artists and their objects become pivotal stimuli, tangibly, in images and words, via their ekphrastic projections to navigate what Benjamin calls, invoking Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, the ‘nocturnal’ in art (Benjamin 2011: 234).[1] That is, a key focus for this issue is to illuminate why and how these late medieval and Northern Renaissance objects associated with specific pictorial and material contexts of medieval and early-modern sites of power, as well as ‘performative practice’ (Kodres and Mänd 2013: 6), become so intertwined with heightened emotional, psychological and traumatic states of ‘modernity’, closing the gap between past and present.

Figure 1: Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514. Copper Engraving. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

[7] As is well-documented, ‘ekphrasis’, from the Greek ek = out and phrazein = to speak, meaning ‘to speak out’ or ‘to show clearly and completely” is one of the most adaptable and multi-faceted modes of speaking and writing in the Western tradition, building on a rich history. Indeed, it was James A. W. Heffernan (1993: 3) who coined a widely accepted and influential definition of ekphrasis as a second-degree representation – ‘the verbal representation of visual representation’ (visual representation meaning here a work of art); developed in recent treatments, ekphrasis is commonly understood as an intermedial reference (Rajewsky 2005, Wolf 2005). However, in the context of this special issue’s focus, we draw on the original rhetorical meaning of ekphrasis which underlines the affective aspects of ekphrastic modes, the centrality of their appeal to emotional states, and the intense embodied (visual and tactile, other sensory) experiences these may trigger (Webb 2009; Rippl 2019/2022). Thus a key thematic concern for this issue is to develop knowledge of a Northern Renaissance in art and memory that speaks to the present, expanding the terrain of its reception and of its cultural (iconographic) and creative renegotiations through its perceived appeal to interlinked pasts connected with new cultural and emotional modernities. In this, our approach is guided by Warburg’s idea of Ausdruckgebärden or ‘pathos formulae’ and the affective expressions of visual motifs, Affektkonserven, that travel across perceived boundaries of history and cultures. Closely entwined is Warburg’s core interest in the Renaissance as ‘the age of the international migration of images’, Warburg’s Wanderstraßen and internationale […] Bilderwanderung (Warburg [1912/1922] 1992: 185). These are concepts, we argue, that may be applied as innovatively to exploring the transmission and cultural significance of the memory and image-worlds of the Northern Renaissance and their capacities to stimulate pathos, as for those of Classical Antiquity and Renaissance Italy. Approached from the perspectives of a Northern Renaissance and its entwined Reformation object, image and memory ‘migrations’ (‘Wanderstraßen’), we contend, sharpens insight into the meaning-production of these pasts for modern culture, and the import of the emotional intensity – pathos – they might carry.

[8] Building on these ideas, a further aim is to illuminate encounters with the Northern Renaissance and the character of emotional responses to its objects and practices, notably in prints and the woodcut art, as central to multiple ways in which fascination with a Northern Renaissance past builds as an imaginary. Thus, a key consideration is to develop understanding of the reception of Northern Renaissance art as a fluid practice of history-making, encounter and transformation. It is to open insights into why and how its pictures and other art objects become so desirable, as collected, imaged, written and embodied, including as sites of expanded memory and modernity for late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians, artists and writers.

[9] As the articles in this issue explore, there is a substantive sense in which the many new writings on Northern Renaissance art and visual culture that appeared in particular from the 1870s to early 1900s, which include extended literary treatments, notably Eugène Fromentin’s Les Maîtres d’Autrefois (1876), Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte (1892), Joris-Karl Huysmans’s La Cathédrale (1898) and Trois Primitifs (1905), Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Il Fuoco (1900),[2] develop heightened concern with the liminal suggestiveness of Northern Renaissance monuments and art objects to evoke a perception of their ‘afterlives’ or Nachleben (to borrow Warburg’s term). These evocations which, as in the case of Rodenbach’s Flemish-Burgundian spectral processions, or d’Annunzio’s renanimation of Dürer’s brooding angel, its tenebrous regard fixed on its afflicted lovers, intensify and prolong their power to disturb. In this sense, the objects and images of the Northern Renaissance or indeed of multiple Northern Renaissances – and Reformation, by the late nineteenth century develop amplified potency – as revealed in the case of Lucas Cranach’s fascination for Max Klinger, the Burgundian chivalric joust for Aby Warburg, Dürer’s power for Wölfflin as emotional self-control – as suggestive embodiments of new cultural and artistic expressions that multiply from the 1880s to the 1920s. Through bringing to fresh attention the complex, layered interactions in processes of reception, portrayal and constructions of the Northern Renaissance, the contributors to this issue illuminate how evaluation and canonization of works of art is shaped. Yet more than this, is what these constructions of a Northern Renaissance memory and imaginary might evoke and mean; that is, their salience, and uses for the workings of cultural memory, emotions, as well for transcultural and transnational mobilities.

[10] In fact, the opportunities to engage with mobile pasts, to see and experience Northern Renaissance artworks first-hand through new exhibitions and displays, was a major source of new inspiration for the historians, artists and writers of interest for this issue. Between 1898 and 1904, the ‘objects’ of a Northern Renaissance, and increasingly, of a German pre- and early-modern patrimony were visible, internationally mobile, public and photographically reproduced as never before.[3] As showcased in the 1902 Bruges exhibition, ‘Les Primitifs flamands’, the 1904 Paris ‘Les Primitifs français’, and the ‘Ausstellung zu Düsseldorf’, the objects of history, their images and fictive re-imagining enter the actual experience of fin-de-siècle and early-twentieth-century modernity. Notably, ‘Les Primitifs flamands’ gave thrilling new visibility and presence to the art and treasures of a powerfully reinvented Northern Burgundian world, from the reign of Philip the Good to Charles the Bold. It was not the only such history-making exhibition at this time. But in terms of its implications for a Northern Renaissance patrimony, and in particular, for Belgian identity-construction, it was trailblazing. Wilhelm von Bode who visited it described it as ‘this most significant Old Master exhibition’ (‘Diese bedeutendste Ausstellung alter Kunst’) (Bode 1997: 298-99). Indeed, scholars have characterized ‘Les Primitifs flamands’, with the other great ‘Primitifs’ exhibitions (in Paris, Siena and Düsseldorf) as powerfully panoramic, stagings of the origins of ‘nation’ for the modern world projected trans-epochs and transnationally (Passini 2010). Bruges and its mirroring French and German counterparts in 1904 certainly put the Renaissance ‘Primitif’ artist into the international spotlight as a label for a rediscovered cultural identity at the cusp of medieval-Renaissance art, as a flashpoint indeed for modernity (Hokanson and Wouk 2020: 148), even if this raised contentious, racializing subtexts for these artists and objects of national ‘rediscovery’ (Deam 1998; Hayum 2014). However, as important as the issue of national identity are ways in which these displays brought a visual and sensory object world of multiple Northern Renaissances – Netherlandish, Flemish, Burgundian, French, German and Rhenish – close to the perceptions and experiences of its early twentieth-century viewers and commentators.

[11] There is much about ‘national’ and international claims in the publicity rhetoric of the organizers of these ‘Primitive’ exhibitions (Hulin de Loo 1902; 1904; Bouchot and Lafenestre 1904). There is an equal fascination with the emotions excited by their displays in the responses, for example, of celebrated visitors to Bruges – amongst them, Huysmans, Johan Huizinga, Max Friedländer, Roger Fry, Stefan Zweig, George Bernard Shaw and the sculptor Georges Minne. Paul Clemen, the organizer of the 1904 Düsseldorf ‘Ausstellung’ went so far as to characterize the ‘Primitive’ allure for early 1900s visitors as akin to ‘a fashionable sickness’ (Diebold 2020: 231); but for Friedländer, recalling his 1902 Bruges visit, the experience was ‘memorable’ (‘denkwürdigen Brügger Leihausstellung von 1902’: Friedländer 1924: 15). It is worth noting that in addition to the substantial displays of paintings, a particular innovation of the Bruges 1902 exhibition, was its rich array of ‘art ancien’: furniture and decorative arts, arranged in ensembles very similar to Bode’s practice of creating ‘period rooms’.[4] Likewise, in the paintings galleries, however incomplete (Hayum 2014), the clarity of exposition created for its visitors a new in-the-round, embodied viewing experience, bringing to visibility, the early Masters: Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden, giving the limelight to Van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon Van der Paele (1434-36: Bruges, Groeninge Museum), and putting Memling’s work in the spotlight. His St John’s Altarpiece (c.1479: Bruges, St John’s Hospital, Fig. 2) and St Ursula Shrine (1489: Bruges, St John’s Hospital) were star centrepieces of the painting displays as the organizers of the Paris 1904 ‘Les Primitifs français’ staged their French Renaissance spotlight, Jean Fouquet’s Melun Diptych (c.1452-55: Etienne Chevalier: Berlin, Gemäldegalerie; Virgin and Child: Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Fig. 3), as the historical and emotional keystone of the exhibition. In these ways, visitors were afforded a new kind of embodied engagement with the past: experiences doubtless enhanced by the copious image production, in catalogues, photographs, postcards and souvenir guides generated by Bruges and the other major ‘primitifs’ exhibitions (see Bruges, 1902). This is one which enhanced opportunities for intimate, individualized and close-up viewing, for ‘discoveries’, and via the objects’ staging, to time-travel: to enter the world of these rich ensembles of objects and artworks to experience their ‘fictions’ yet as if an extension of the beholder’s space and contemporaneity. As memorably evoked in Huizinga’s 1919 Autumntide of the Middle Ages in the contexts of Bruges, an uncanny, Burgundian past, thereby becomes the experience – and pathos – of 1920s modernity. 

Figure 2: Hans Memling, St John’s Altarpiece, c. 1479. Oil on oak panel. Bruges: Memling Museum, St John’s Hospital.
Figure 3: Jean Fouquet, The Virgin and Child surrounded by Cherubim and Seraphim (Melun Diptych), c.1450. Oil on oak panel. Antwerp: Royal Museum of Fine Arts, public domain.

Emotional Histories – (Re)-Encountering/Staging the Northern Renaissance

[12] These interests in emotional reception, affective objects, and Northern Renaissance modernities in word and image and their legacies, have determined the structure of the contributions to this issue. The first section opens by considering the significance of Northern Renaissance art and its cultures as sites of uncanny, and in key instances, conflicted histories and discourses of memory production: what were the Northern Renaissance constructs, textual tropes, object uses and identities implicated in narratives of nation-making and modernity, and how did these involve the emotions? A specific concern in this section is to extend understanding of the writing and constructions of Northern Renaissance historiography from the 1870s to the early 1900s, as well as of its symbols, objects and rhetorical strategies, to shed light on its meaning as an emotional network of interests – and projections. If this was a critical historical as well as political moment in the expansion of ideas of nation, and in their imperial interactions (throughout Northern Europe and the Habsburg lands), it is equally a period when the writing, collecting and staging of a Northern Renaissance and its counterpart Reformation legacies comes into new visibility. It does so as a potent dynamic of that history-making, about power struggles and their identities, as much present and future, as past.

[13] The rewriting of Northern Renaissance pasts, as multiple, porous and negotiated, indeed, is a framing concern for the new insights developed in this section; it structures the broader approaches in this issue. We conceive these as ‘afterlives’ to expand on Aby Warburg’s term ‘afterlife’, Nachleben, that is, a notion of history conceived by Warburg from the standpoint of the reader’s and viewer’s experiential present rather than from an ‘objective’ past as set in time. Ernst Gombrich’s translation of Warburg’s term Nachleben as ‘revivals’ and ‘continued vitality of the classical heritage in Western civilization’ glosses it as the closest to what Warburg had in mind (Gombrich 1970: 16); but for Georges Didi-Huberman, Nachleben has a deeper connection with ‘survival’ (Didi-Huberman 2017: 11) in the sense of it being a dynamic of cultural rediscovery and continuous change across time. He proposes:  

In Warburg’s work, the term Nachleben refers to the survival (the continuity or afterlife and metamorphosis) of images and motifs – as opposed to their renascence after extinction or, conversely, their replacement by innovations in image and motif. […] survival entails a complex set of operations in which forgetting, the transformation of sense, involuntary memory, and unexpected rediscovery work in unison. (Didi-Huberman 2003: 273 and 275)

In other words, for Didi-Huberman, Warburg’s complex understanding of time and historical processes as recursive, circular and iterative as opposed to linear, ‘progressive’ and developmental, materializes in the term Nachleben. Of importance for the approaches to Northern Renaissance reception distilled in this issue, is that Warburg’s term ‘afterlife’ in Didi-Huberman’s words ‘offers no way of simplifying history […].  Rather, it is a notion that cuts across any chronological scheme; in short, it anachronizes history’. He goes on, ‘each period is woven with its own knot of antiquities, anachronisms, present times and tendencies toward the future.’ (Didi-Huberman 2017: 48). Building on Warburg’s concept of Nachleben, suggests scope to question ideas of ‘influence’ and constructs of ‘tradition’, as well as ideas of the cultural continuity of heritage conceived as natural or historically inevitable processes. Whether as ‘revival’ or ‘survival’, Warburg’s concept of Nachleben counterpoints the framing approaches developed in this issue to ‘open particularly fruitful insights in navigating complex cultural temporalities’ (Simpson 2020: 1, fn 1).

[14] The Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’ explored in the contributions to this section shed light on entangled as well as dynamic histories and emotional encounters (Werner and Zimmerman 2006).While the patrimony of the Netherlands and, in particular, a Flemish Renaissance was undoubtedly central to fuelling the cultural ambitions of ‘revivals’ linked with nation-building (Haskell 1993), the Northern Renaissances recovered, rediscovered and emotionally re-imagined were by no means limited to a Flemish, or indeed, singular idea. William Lübke’s German Renaissance (1872), Martin Goutzwiller’s Rhenish one (1875; see Simpson in this issue), Gustave Courajod’s French Renaissance (1888; Simpson, this issue), Johan Huizinga’s Burgundy, and via the fresh attention to early Netherlandish and German masters developed by Wilhelm von Bode (1899), Hulin de Loo (1902), Hugo von Tschudi (1898)[5] and the Burgundian, French and German Renaissances examined here spotlight new ways the Northern Renaissance could be borrowed, positioned and projected multiply. Pivotally, these ‘Renaissances’ cross boundaries of time, territory, object ownership and identities of nation and confession to accommodate and create new spaces of memory and modernity that expose, yet navigate their interactions across cultures (Heard and Whitaker 2013) and entangled histories (Werner and Zimmerman 2006). This encompasses contradictions in the very construct of what is understood, commemorated and projected as a ‘Northern Renaissance’. By the 1870s and 1880s, this entwines objects and legacies perceived as Gothic, Renaissance and Reformation, Catholic and Protestant. As the articles by Juliet Simpson, Stephanie Heremans and Evanghelia Stead illuminate, these Northern Renaissance identities and projections develop acute emotional, and uncanny pertinence for historians, artists, writers and collectors in the late nineteenth century and early 1900s in the contexts of staging, embodying and re-imagining different visions of their pasts to amplify a sense of their modernity. That modernity turns as much on the pasts and objects that return, and their power as uncanny presences in negotiating alterities of hidden histories and presents.  

[15] Juliet Simpson’s article explores the pivotal importance of three ‘Northern Renaissances’, focused on the art of Martin Schongauer, Jean Fouquet and Enguerrand Quarton as emotive touchstones in a tense contest for the French Third Republic’s ownership of its cultural identity-construction, past and present, between 1875 and 1910. As projected in memory sites, print, and via exhibitions, notably the monumental Paris 1904 ‘Les Primitifs français’, these Northern Renaissances, variously adopted for ‘French’ memory-making, become implicated in competing visions and cartographies of French ownership of its histories – in Alsace-Rhinelands, Netherlandish-Burgundy and the Midi – as of alternative imaginaries of ‘nation-hood’. Indeed, Simpson sheds light on how these Renaissance ‘afterlives’ and their objects of ‘devotion’ develop intense emotional potency as counter-cultural sites and narratives of belonging. She shows how they coincide with new affective ways of writing and staging the history of Northern Renaissance reception, while at the same time manifest as occulted forces in late nineteenth-century French ambitions for its idea of cultural modernity, and its pivotal sites of power.

[16] The affective afterlives of a Northern-Burgundian Renaissance, as staged in early 1900s Brussels, is the key concern in Stephanie Heremans’s contribution. Focusing on Aby Warburg’s visit to and account of the 1905 chivalric tournament in Brussels to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of Belgian independence, Heremans illuminates Warburg’s interest in the tournament as a new source of his concern with the power of historical affects to provoke response across boundaries of time and culture. As she argues, Warburg’s engagement with this Northern Renaissance chivalric festival raises central questions about its patriotic contexts, claims for ‘authenticity’ and the historical character of its re-imagined Flemish Burgundy (as the locus of a coherent projection of Belgian-ness in the early twentieth century). Yet at the same time, in bringing to light Warburg’s immersion in, yet subsequently conflicted view of the affective allure of the festival as the portal to the presence of a past age (in particular, in its costumes and heraldic flags), the article reveals new insights about the neglected importance of this experience for Warburg’s comparative idea of the workings of Florentine Renaissance festivals in modern culture. That is, his perception of how the objects and images of a distant and unreachable past are reanimated not through a historical ‘reconstruction’, but rather, in ways that exceed their temporal and object borders as a present pathos.

[17] In Evanghelia Stead’s article, it is the art and images of a German Renaissance and Reformation memory that stimulate powerful new visions and practices of making art, attuned to a fin-de-siècle sensibility of dark emotions, and obsessive states. Taking Max Klinger’s interest in the prints of Lucas Cranach the Elder, Stead opens new insights into how the reproducible media of the Northern Renaissance and Reformation offer opportunities to be reworked for intense, forceful and often biting new means of expression. The focus on Klinger’s Der Äpfelchen begehrt ihr sehr, the title, taken from Goethe’s Faust, Part One, implicates a Northern Renaissance iconography of Adam and Eve and its themes of sin and temptation in treatments by Dürer and Cranach (the Elder), with the subliminal, affective power of images of the Biblical Fall in Lutheranism, and their uncanny reanimations in Klinger’s graphic works. Indeed, Stead highlights how intertwined Northern Renaissance and Reformation uses of bodies and images to heighten emotional intensity, provoke Klinger’s suggestive play with his print’s power to mediate conflicted states of good and evil, pivoting on its capacities to arouse. Above all shown in Klinger’s practice of ‘griffelkunst’ (scratching/scoring), as Stead argues, this brings to visibility, ways in which the print – and Klinger’s use of graphic art – makes present and tactile, hidden and extreme emotions silenced in painting.      

Emotional Viewing – Affective Objects

[18] In Section two, the emphasis turns to exploring an engagement with a Northern Renaissance imaginary to express emotions associated with disturbing states of cultural modernity, in the contexts of political tensions, pre-First World War, the 1917 Russian Revolution, the failed 1919 German revolution and the growing Fascist threat – political developments that caused extreme mental and bodily distress for many. Unsurprisingly, visual works of art and literary texts during these years are often characterized by repetitions, phantoms, and phantasms; their imagery depicts a modernity that is uncanny, tenebrous and often troubled. The contributions in this section develop this special issue’s second key thematic focus on modernist artistic and literary responses to the affective power of Northern Renaissance objects and images to navigate a turbulent present through new approaches to modes of emotional encounter and viewing.

[19] A prominent example of this is shown in the writings of the American poet Marianne Moore, whose ekphrastic poetics repeatedly invokes Northern Renaissance visual works of art. Indeed, her poetry attests to how both literature and visual art in the 1920s and 1930s engage with Northern Renaissance objects and images to mediate a traumatic cultural modernity with its interlinked socio-cultural imaginaries and complex emotional moods. Moore replied with her poetry to the serious political developments in Europe and the humanitarian crisis in America caused by the severe economic crisis of the ‘Great Depression’. Indeed, as Bonnie Costello perceives, ‘Moore the modernist turns back to the Old Masters not just to draw from their image bank or for artistic direction but also to guide a renovation of seeing that has particular urgency for her historical environment.’ (Costello 2012: 57). For example, although at the limit of this issue’s temporal scope of enquiry, her 1932 ekphrastic poem ‘The Steeple-Jack’ opens insight into Dürer’s early-twentieth-century afterlives, suggesting how Moore articulated emotional anxieties of her own time via detours to Dürer’s pictures and aesthetics. Moore was inspired by Dürer’s detailed observations and precisionism, as conjured, for instance, in stanza 3: ‘a sea the purple of the peacock’s neck is / paled to greenish azure as Dürer changed / the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea / grey’ (Moore 1961: 13; see Leavell 2007: 178). The series of scenes ‘The Steeple-Jack’ puts before the readers’ eyes engages them in a deeper seeing, to look more closely and go beyond surface observations, as highlighted in stanza 5 where we read: ‘A steeple-jack in red, has let / a rope down as a spider spins a thread;’ (Moore 1961: 13), inviting readers to mull over the foreboding comparison of the steeple-jack’s rope and a spider’s thread as veiled threat. ‘The Steeple-Jack’ also attests to the spiritual and moral kinship Moore felt with Dürer as an early Reformation artist with an interest in Luther, invoked especially in stanzas 6 and 7 with its references to the sins of politicians (Moore 1961: 14). The poem’s interplay of word and image hints at emotional undercurrents, bound up with conscience and ‘truth’, and invites readers to ruminate on insinuations. This is why Costello (2012: 65-66) suggests that readers encounter not only the Dürer they know from his watercolours depicting scenes of nature, but also his famous engraving Melencolia I. ‘The Steeple-Jack’, despite its pastoral guise, intimates this powerful mood to brood; as Costello puts it: ‘the Dürer whom Moore invokes in this poem is not only the lover of nature’s changing surface and harmonious proportions but also the brooding artist, as well as the lover of God and believer in the necessity of grace.’ (Costello 2012: 66).

[20] Among the many afterlives of Dürer’s pictures is his oil painting, Feast of the Rose Garlands. Andrea Bubenik’s contribution discusses the emotional potency of past lives that this internationally mobile oil painting carries. Painted in the cultural contexts of Renaissance Venice (1506), it travelled to Baroque Prague (1606), appeared at exhibitions in Vienna (1873) and Nuremberg (1928) to find its present place in the National Gallery of Prague. This itinerary of the painting’s travels and the physical damage it endured during migrations and restorations lead Bubenik to an exploration of its histories of migration, memories of irreparable physical damage and experiences of trauma that are linked to, and perceived as mediated by this painting. The painting as a ruin and traumatized object leads Bubenik to an understanding of Warburg’s term Nachleben/afterlife as ‘survival’ as framed in this Introduction. Indeed, she sees the painting as an emotional object charged with an affective history. This affective quality ascribed to the picture is enhanced by the text that accompanies it, as for instance in Dürer’s ekphrastic and prosopopoeia-like references to the painting in his letters which give it a ‘voice’, or as developed by the comments of art historians and curators in later decades. As vehicle for and bearer of turbulent memories, Dürer’s Feast of the Rose Garlands directly enters the space of cultural modernity and has undergone a healing process in the late nineteenth century when its migratory possibilities and multi-cultural identities were celebrated, which transcend binaries such as north and south, national and multinational, imperial centre and periphery. 

[21] Dürer is also a key figure in Niccola Shearman’s article which investigates the urgent emotional responses to the art of the late medieval and Renaissance woodcut in German Expressionist prints and writings in Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. These years were characterized by bruised sensibilities of an artistic and intellectual community defeated in war and humiliated on the world stage. The celebration of a German heritage of the late Middle Ages and Dürer’s woodcut production was understood as a means of propelling collective cultural cohesion to negotiate alternative, at times competing visions of German cultural identity. Wilhelm Worringer’s nationalistic argument for a transcendental expression of ‘Gothic spirit’, the idea that a woodcut print might share the same structural monumentality as a cathedral, was a powerful one for art historians like Paul Westheim and for the artist Ernst Barlach. They were susceptible to the widespread emotional investment in apparently latent elements of a ‘Germanic’ artistic heritage (qualities of line, monumentality and Prägnanz). Shearman illuminates a connected history and reception of the woodcut as a medium of emotional deposit and a working through of material cultural transmission – as a medium that has a special potential to create heightened emotions in the viewing as well as the making of woodcuts. Further, Shearman interrogates the language used to describe this affective power and engages with scientific, aesthetic and art historical theories of empathy together with Gestalt theory and Barlach’s prints in new contexts of their relationships with war trauma and the dislocations which followed.

[22] Here, and in the other examples explored in this special issue, the many inter- and transmedial responses in word and image to Northern Renaissance objects heighten the cathectic nature and affective power of objects, and thus the emotions stimulated in reception processes. In the aftermath of the First World War, facing painful new, uncanny realities, many other modernist writers, art historians and curators turned to Northern Renaissance artists, in particular, to Dürer, in order to make sense of their times, to forge new national as well as transnational identities, to express or invest emotions in objects of the Northern Renaissance while at the same time using objects to work through trauma, notably in the case of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (1512-16) to give ‘shape to war, anguish, loss and mourning’ (Simpson 2023: 62). Clearly, different Dürers existed in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, for instance the Dürer of German nationalists, who turned Dürer into the quintessential German artist who incarnates German-ness. Their Dürer was epitomized in his engraving, Knight, Death and the Devil (‘Ritter, Tod und Teufel’: 1513) seen ‘decorating the walls of countless German parlours’ (Ruehl 2009: 64, summarizing Wölfflin). A prominent example that negotiates this ‘German’ Dürer is Thomas Mann’s late novel Doktor Faustus. The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend (1947), which retells the Faust legend set in the context of the first half of the twentieth century. Many others showed an indebtedness to Dürer, the creator of the Melencholia I, among them Freud (Bahun 2014) and Benjamin who were attempting to capture psycho-social rifts and lacunae generated by what Benjamin terms ‘a change in the structure of […] experience’ (SW IV, 2003: 314; cf. Flatley 2008). As Benjamin puts it, it is ‘an inquisitive mode’ that corresponds to the contemporary ‘catastrophe in permanence’ (Benjamin SW IV: 164). And this inquisitive, emotionally powerful dejected mode is also what we encounter in W. H. Auden’s Bruegel.

[23] In his canonical ekphrastic poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ (1938), Auden enters a reticent intermedial dialogue with several of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s major works, notably The Triumph of Death (1562: Madrid, Museo del Prado Collection) with its scenes of mass killings,[6] The Massacre of the Innocents (attributed to Bruegel the Younger, 1564 or 1566 Brussels: Musées Royaux), The Census at Bethlehem (1566: Brussels, Musées Royaux) and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c.1560: Brussels, Musées Royaux, Fig. 4). It is this latter painting and its depiction of the mundane routine of the ploughman, depicted left in the foreground, and the shepherd to his right, who both appear absorbed in their own activities, seemingly oblivious to the tragedy taking place behind them: ‘About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters’, stanza 1 (Auden 1979: 79), and ‘In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure’, stanza 2 (Auden 1980: 80).

Figure 4: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c. 1560. Oil on canvas. Brussels: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

[24] As narrated in Book Eight of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the waxen wings of the mythological figure Icarus melt in the heat of the sun, leading to his death as he plummets into the water. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ is one of the most resonating modernist ekphrastic treatments of an artwork, written at the same time as Moore’s poem, when Fascism was gaining strength in Europe. As portrayed in Bruegel’s The Fall of Icarus, Auden’s poem invokes an image of intense human suffering, yet as a nondescript, off-stage happening, a reticent tragedy, almost unnoticed in the human tendency to turn away and ignore disaster. The reader encounters several time layers and complex temporalities, which are present simultaneously, and which suggest Warburg’s complex notion of recursive, cyclical time and Nachleben/survival: Antiquity via Ovid’s myth, the Northern Renaissance with Bruegel’s painting and the present time of the 1930s through oblique references to suffering, martyrdom, torture and disaster. The poem offers yet another re-imagining of earlier times, and it is the Northern Renaissance in particular which speaks to the horrors of contemporary European totalitarianisms and impending war; the Northern Renaissance object is activated as an image of entangled, transcultural motion across borders, as a moment of sublimated Apocalypse. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux-Arts’ as Paola Marchetti argues, ‘muses on art’s ability to portray the historical world, contrasted with its inability to change it’ (Marchetti 2004: 205). Alexander Nemerov takes this idea further in perceiving Auden’s poem to be about ‘the place of the intellectual in violent times’ (2005: 780). Indeed, he goes on to highlight the striking relation between the poem’s subtexts and Auden’s experiences in 1938, when ‘[from January to June, he and [Christopher] Isherwood had been in China, writing a book on the Sino-Japanese War called Journey to a War [1939], which they finished in Brussels at the end of the year’ (Nemerov 2005: 784). What Auden achieves with his ekphrastic poem is a re-imagining and intermedial transcription of the emotional charge of Bruegel’s painting, which serves to bring home a message for his own time.

Northern Renaissance ‘Modernities’ in Word, Image and Legacy

[25] Indeed, these emotional constructions and afterlives of a Northern Renaissance memory, its migrating objects and images, uncover their persistent power for modernist artists and writers in their efforts to navigate the instability of history, and of their own time. War, revolutions, the collapse of Empires and new totalitarianisms cast their shadows. Section three returns to the first section’s theme of emotional histories and reception, but examined in the light of new anxieties about the meanings and survival of ‘tradition’ that critically engage rethinking legacies and identities of Northern Renaissance art. This is particularly evident in ways in which uncanny aspects of modern art and culture post-1918, such as alienation, isolation, disillusionment, dejection, trauma and loss (see Simpson 2023), find sharpened focus in an epic as well as the intimate medieval and Northern Renaissance tragic ‘modernity’, whether orchestrated by Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, Dürer’s Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (1496-97), or Johan Huizinga’s Burgundian shapeshifting present of glitter, arms and death.

[26] Revisiting the 1910s and 1920s forms an important point of reflection and synthesis for the contributions in this final section. These foreground a facet of cultural modernity and Modernism that illuminates the key role played by the Northern Renaissance, connecting the imaginaries pre-1914 to its expanded contexts of return and recreation following 1918. Indeed, both the articles by Andrew Murray and Hans Hönes engage with central questions about the value and meanings of a Northern Renaissance tradition in modern culture, asking, what are the Northern Renaissance cultural and religious legacies in the first decades of the twentieth century, and examining why they might matter for the cultural and social landscape of the present.

[27] The frantic efforts to repatriate war spoliations and looted artworks from Germany following 1918 indicates the urgency and timeliness of these objects for social and human, as for cultural reparation. This is demonstrable in the case of the six Ghent Altarpiece panels (sold and removed to Berlin during the nineteenth century), but finally repatriated to Belgium in 1920 by special clause in the Treaty of Versailles. It was the return memorably celebrated by bells ringing out in every Belgian city, by tears and genuflections (Van der Gheyn 1945), invoked by the French art historian, Louis Gillet’s rousing call to what he sees incarnated in the legacy of Flemish art as ‘resolutely cosmopolitan’ (‘volontiers cosmopolite’: Gillet 1918: 15). And for Gillet, this expansively Northern, international spirit is above all distilled in his image of ‘The Mystic Lamb’ as ‘L’Agneau-drapeau’ [authors’ emphasis] evoking a deeper moment of collective ‘resurrection’ (Gillet 1936: 101),[7] his passionate flag flaring against the all-too-visible spectre of ‘dead cities’, their traumatized peoples and extinguished pasts.

[28] In such turbulent times, in the face of profound tensions about ‘belonging’, it is possible to understand why the Northern Renaissance in its entwining with the Gothic and the Grotesque, its multiplicity, indeed, appealed to early twentieth-century artists and writers as a potent response to the ‘maelstrom of modern life’ (Berman 1982).[8] Anglo-American modernist writers refer often to Northern Renaissance artists and their works: James Joyce’s written portrait of the artist as a young man show parallels to the early self-portraits of Dürer, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck, each of whom made a series of youthful self-portraits (Spurr 2020); Ford Madox Ford borrowed from Holbein’s and Dürer’s paintings when depicting his characters’ physiognomies in his trilogy The Fifth Queen (1906, 1907, 1908).[9] And it is also possible that Northern Renaissance paintings such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death or Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-50: Madrid, Museo del Prado) may have come to T. S. Eliot’s attention via his interest in surrealism when writing parts of his major work of Anglo-American modernism, The Waste Land (1921) (see Hargrove 2006). Grotesqueries and the fantastically distorted, bizarre sacred and demonic visions in the paintings and engravings of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel reverberate in the modernist nightmarish dreamscapes of Salvador Dali and George Grosz. Indeed, in 1927, Max Friedländer was one the first critics of his generation to bring to his contemporaries’ interest, what he perceived as the ‘inventive’, metamorphic energy of Bosch’s drawings, especially his grotesques, as a parallel creative force to that of his paintings (Friedländer 1927). Even if the question of Bosch’s art’s authorship and authenticity is problematic in relation to the responses it provoked in 1920s art and literature (notably by Surrealists), the idea of Bosch, the Gothic incongruities of Boschian ‘grotesques’, their unsettling nature-object distortions, find further resonance encoded in the works of such modernist American writers as Sherwood Anderson. Arguably most potent, is his short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio (1919) which relates a variety of tales featuring deeply frustrated characters or ‘grotesques’, their dislocated encounters with everyday objects and spaces, magnifying a sense of the suffocating, even hellish realities of isolationist, small-town America. In addition to Anderson’s pioneering depiction of the loneliness and distortions of modern lives, there is also the tradition of the Southern Gothic style in American modernist literature with its absurdist critique of modernity as represented by William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor.

[29] When we turn to Andrew Murray’s contribution, we encounter how yet another intellectual of the time, Johan Huizinga, evoked the politics of his time in his Autumntide of the Middle Ages (1919) in connection with the Northern Renaissance and with respect to Warburg’s Pathosformeln and the debates around tragedy and tragic tradition. Although Huizinga and Warburg shared interests in symbol, art, emotions, anthropology and the Renaissance, Murray sheds light on how Huizinga met Warburg’s ideas with reservations: whereas Warburg used Pathosformel to trace the movement of images across cultures and times, Huizinga’s ‘forms’ constructed a synchronic portrait of a period, what he calls a ‘Gestalt’ or ‘style’. Huizinga saw an unachieved development in Warburg because he perceived Warburg’s vision of cultural history as replete with detail while lacking style – a sign of spiritual and cultural decline. Murray demonstrates that this description of Warburg’s research as lacking style was symptomatic of how Huizinga was influenced by the history of tragic philosophy, notably Hegel’s and Nietzsche’s, and such tragic philosophy can also be traced in his analysis of the late Franco-Burgundian medieval and Renaissance north. Notably, Huizinga’s description of the ‘hollow and superficial character’ of late medieval ‘formalism’ bears strong parallels with Hegel’s conception of the unhappy consciousness as hollow and devoid of content. Huizinga, thus, conceptualized life and emotion during the fifteenth century using the late Franco-Burgundian medieval and Renaissance North to express his reaction to the disturbed political situation of his own time.

[30] Like Murray, Hans Hönes’s contribution focuses on how intellectuals, cultural theoreticians and art historians in the first decades of the twentieth century debated geographical aspects of Northern and Southern artistic production in the contexts of troubled political developments and their negotiations of a mounting struggle between ‘rooted’ and transnational identities. The article investigates the emotional state of ‘aesthetic disappointment’, that is the moment when the viewing of a work of art, though invested with much anticipation by the beholder, does not live up to the ideas and ideals associated with it. Hönes detects such a moment in Heinrich Wölfflin’s late monograph Italy and the German Feeling for Form (1931), which indicates the latter’s shift from admiration of the beauty of Southern Renaissance art to a celebration of his own heritage, the ‘national characteristics’ of Northern Renaissance art. The new attention to Northern art also meant a significant shift in method: while the famous Grundbegriffe (1914) theorized a ‘neutral’ history of vision, Wölfflin now emphasized the ‘rootedness’ of both Northern and Southern European artistic productions in factors of race and soil. Hönes understands Wölfflin’s new interest in ‘national characteristics’ and ‘racial types’ as evidence for a gradual disillusionment with the Idealist notion of art as an autonomous and transformative power. Wölfflin – and his reception of Dürer in particular – provides an important case study for today’s understanding of art historiography around 1900, the emotional régimes of the disciplines, the power of images, and the temporal complexities, ambiguities and entangled subtexts that were associated with ‘Northern’ identities.

Conclusions – Northern Renaissance Alterities

[31] Indeed, Hönes’s article draws together the key discoveries and broader import of this special issue. The Northern Renaissance ‘afterlives’, objects and image-constructions, whether passionate or reticent as distilled by the contributions, develop emotional power to express the turbulence, intensity and the possibilities of a conflicted present – that the memory of a Northern Renaissance cannot be written only as past, neither can its artworks and the ekphrastic discourses evoked by them be contained in the boundaries of history. Rather, they become reanimated in the moment of their new encounter and perception as they did for countless ‘pilgrims’ to Bruges, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Colmar, Munich, Vienna and many other places of rediscovery from the late nineteenth century, through the First World War and its aftermath. Collectively, the discoveries of this special issue illuminate the Northern Renaissance as projected in its sites of memory, by image and in word, as a pivotal, yet to date neglected impetus for the major cultural modernities of the early twentieth century. In particular, we have sought to shed light on the compelling entwining of the Northern Renaissances explored here with war, nation and its alterities – with expressing a different ‘modernity’ both painful and potent. Paying closer attention to the practices and meanings of projecting embodied pasts offers a new lens through which we might approach and rethink their significance for future scholars. And in opening new spaces between perception and history, past objects and their power to be experienced and recreated as ‘presence’ across cultures, temporalities and media, we hope to bring fresh enquiry to the manifold potencies of Renaissances, that in Max Friedländer’s resonant words, navigate the ‘storm’ and are touchstones of vision.


[1] Writing of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, which Benjamin saw in 1913 on his visit to the Colmar Musée d’Unterlinden, as a dark epiphany: ‘The radiant is true only when it is refracted in the nocturnal’ (2011: 234; Simpson 2023: 53-55).

[2] Notably in Huysmans’s evocations of Rogier van der Weyden’s central ‘Nativity’ panel of his Middleburger Altar (Berlin) in La Cathédrale, and of ‘[the] unearthly beauty of its untranslatable’ Virgin (‘La figure est intraduisible, d’une beauté surhumaine’, Huysmans 2021, 6: 136); in Les Trois primitifs, his extended poetic treatment of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (Huysmans 2008: 299-415; see Simpson 2019); while the lovers’ crisis in d’Annunzio’s Il fuoco pivots on their encounter with Dürer’s Melencolia 1 as the image of impending emotional turmoil and breakdown (Brown 1960).

[3] They encompassed Wilhelm von Bode’s and Richard Stettiner’s Ausstellung von kunstwerken des Mittelalters und der Renaissance aus Berliner Privatbesitz verantstaltet von der Kunstgeschichtlichen Gesellschaft, 20 May–3 June 1898 (Alten Akademie der Kunst, Berlin), Baron Henri Kervyn de Lettenhove’s Les Primitifs flamands (Bruges, 1902); Henri Bouchot’s and Georges Lafenestre’s Les Primitifs français (Paris, 1904); Mostra dell’Antica Arte Senese (Siena, 1904) and Paul Clemen’s Ausstellung zu Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, 1904).

[4] As articulated in Bode’s article, ‘La Renaissance au Musée de Berlin’ (Bode 1887), developed in Bode’s displays in the Berlin Kaiser-Friedrich Museum from 1904. 

[5] Demonstrable, for example in Von Tschudi’s interest in giving visibility to the early-Netherlandish Master of Flémalle in the context of what he perceives as the still neglected, yet ‘exceedingly fertile artistic production from the soil of Brabant and Flanders’ (‘so überaus fruchtbaren Boden von Flandern und Brabant’), as the equal to that of the Italian Renaissance (Von Tschudi 1898: 8), suggesting fresh insights into von Tschudi’s struggle as Director of the Berlin Alte Nationgalerie (1896-1909) to promote a perception of Northern Renaissance art as pivotal to his attempts to develop his modern art collections from the enlarged standpoint of their ‘international’, so-called ‘primitive’ precedents (see Clegg 1997: 217). 

[6] The German Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum painted his version of Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death, see Triumph des Todes (1944), shortly before he was deported from his exile in Brussels and murdered in Auschwitz. We would like to thank Liliane Louvel for bringing Nussbaum’s painting and his reception of the Northern Renaissance to our attention.

[7] In echoing the recent sentiments of H. Kervyn de Lettenhove (1917) about the power of patrimony in war to protect ‘collective memory’ with specific reference to Belgium, Gillet’s ‘résurrection’ builds the image as a projected future, pivoting on his treatment of the Ghent Altarpiece as the site of contested and international memory and ‘belonging’ – ‘L’Antique Agneau de Gand reprend son rôle de drapeau’ (‘The former Lamb of Ghent takes back its role as banner.’ Gillet 1920/1936: 100-101).   

[8] The ‘maelstrom of modern life’ refers to numerous changes that characterized modern life at the beginning of the twentieth century such as ‘new forms of corporate power and class struggle, immense demographic upheavals […] rapid and often cataclysmic urban growth; systems of mass communication […] mass social movements of people, and peoples, challenging their political and economic rulers, striving to gain some control over their lives’ in the face of ‘an ever-expanding, drastically fluctuating capitalist world market’ (Berman 1982: 16).

[9] Ford’s biography on Hans Holbein the Younger. A Critical Monograph, first published in 1905, served as background to his novel. Holbein’s and Dürer’s differing depiction of human faces shaped Ford’s understanding of English cultural history. His belief in the evolution of human psychologies and that historical ages produce different psychological types whose change is brought about by ‘economic or social conditions of the races’ (Huntley 1965: 4) might be considered inaccurate (an ‘impressionist myth’ as Huntley put it).


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Juliet Simpson, Coventry University

Juliet Simpson is Full Professor of Art History, Chair of Cultural Memory and Research Director in the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities, Coventry University. She is an internationally-recognized expert in long nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art and visual culture, French fin-de-siècle art and cultural memory, word, image and the emotions, and afterlives of Gothic and Northern Renaissance visual cultures. Publications include: Critical Exchange: Art Criticism in Russia and Western Europe (Peter Lang: 2009, co-edited with Carol Adlam), Gothic Modernisms – Enchanted Spaces of Art and Modernity, 1880-1930s (forthcoming, Peter Lang: 2024, co-edited), and numerous articles, most recently, ‘Lucas Cranach’s Legacies’ (2020), ‘Baudelaire’s Uncanny Urban “Spirituel”’ (2022), and ‘The Isenheim Altarpiece and War’ (2023). Juliet Simpson has held Visiting Fellowships at Wolfson College, Oxford, and the Warburg Institute, London, Visiting Professor, University of Amsterdam, and is currently Visiting International Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Centre, University of Heidelberg. She is Guest Curator for the international scholarly exhibition, Gothic Modern, 1875-1925: Munch to Kollwitz (Helsinki-Oslo-Berlin, 2024-25), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Royal Historical Society, UK, and sits on the international Advisory Board of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.

Gabriele Rippl, University of Bern

Gabriele Rippl is Full Professor and Chair of Literatures in English/North American Literature at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Her current research interests are theories of intermediality; ekphrasis in modernist and contemporary Anglo-American narrative fiction and life writing; cultural sustainability and eco-ekphrasis. Publications: Beschreibungs-Kunst (Munich: Fink, 2005; authored); Metzler Handbuch Kanon und Wertung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2013; co-edited); Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in an Age of Trauma (Toronto: Toronto UP, 2013; co-edited); Imagescapes: Studies in Intermediality (Oxford: Lang, 2010; co-edited); Handbook of Intermediality (Berlin: De Gruyter 2015; edited); Verbal-Visual Configurations in Postcolonial Literature: Intermedial Aesthetics (London: Routledge, 2020; co-authored with Birgit Neumann); and Handbook of Anglophone World Literatures (Berlin: De Gruyter 2020; co-edited). She serves as co-editor of Anglia. Journal of English Philology, the Anglia Book Series and the De Gruyter series Handbooks of English and American Studies. Text and Theory.


This special issue is the developed outcome of many contributions, efforts and commitment. The Editors would like to thank, in particular, the invaluable input of colleagues for the Warburg Conference (April 2021) and in the genesis of this project, notably our thanks to our steering panel, Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff (Ateneum-Finnish National Gallery), Dr Stefan Bauer (King’s College London), and to our contributors: Dr Hans Hönes, Professor Evanghelia Stead, Dr Andrew Murray, Dr Niccola Shearman, Stephanie Heremans, Dr Andrea Bubenik,  Xinyi Wen,  Professor Dominique Bauer, Dr Stephanie Sailer, Dr Stefan Huygebaert and Dr Martina Mazzotta. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Jon Millington at the Warburg Institute and Joanna Meredith (PhD candidate, Coventry University) for so expertly guiding and coordinating the Conference organization, the Conference event (online) and to Joanna’s efforts in producing the superb Conference booklet which provided an indispensable record of the Conference outcomes.  Throughout this project, colleagues and Fellows at the Warburg Institute, London, have played a pivotal role in contributing to the new ideas, discoveries and approaches distilled in this issue. Our particular thanks to Professor Bill Sherman, Professor Michelle O’Malley, Dr Martina Mazzotta, Dr François Quiviger, Dr Steffen Haug, Jon Millington and to Warburg Fellows and colleagues for many stimulating exchanges which have underpinned this project’s development. Further thanks are due to the Royal Historical Society (UK) for the conference award to Juliet Simpson which funded Joanna Meredith’s role as Conference Research Assistant and her preparation of the Conference booklet. The Editors would also like to thank colleagues and PhD candidates in the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities at Coventry University, and the Faculty of English and American Studies at the University of Bern for their many acts of support from the Conference to the published outcome. In this, special thanks are due to Sofie Behluli, Michael Boog, Jonathan Sarfin and Nino Töndury (University of Bern) for invaluable editorial and bibliographic assistance, in particular, in supporting the Editors’ Introduction. Last but not least, we would like to thank our authors, the many anonymous peer-reviewers for this issue for their expertise, generous guidance and input throughout the publication process, to our JNR Editors, Dr Lynsey McCulloch and Dr Patrick Hart, and all at JNR Editorial for all your excellent support in steering the journey from genesis to fruition.

The Editors: Juliet Simpson and Gabriele Rippl

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