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Modernism and Mysticism in Germany: Wilhelm Worringer and Pater Desiderius Lenz

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The text seeks to integrate the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century art of the traditional Benedictine community of Beuron in southwestern Germany with early twentieth-century Modernist aesthetics, particularly as the latter are expressed in Abstraction and Empathy, a Contribution to the Psychology of Style by the German Art Historian Wilhelm Worringer. The influences on Beuron art—the German Kulturkampf that set Protestants and Catholics in northern and southern Germany in opposition and placed the few remaining monastic communities in limbo, the Beuron artist monks’ inspiration from the immobile Egyptian antiquities in the museums of Munich and Berlin, and their desire to develop a universal and otherworldly Christian art which transcended the tangible, tactile, and divisive world in which they lived, worked, and prayed—resulted in a similar rejection of the visible, the real, and the tangible and an embrace of the eternal and symbolic that the Modernists sought. The text ends with a quote from the Dutch Modernist Jan Toorop, a recently converted Roman Catholic, who asked his audience the following in 1912: “Two sculptures that dominate today in the mainstream of sculpture are The Burghers of Calais by the great Rodin and on the other hand St. Benedictine and St. Scholastica by the Benedictine Father Desiderius Lenz. Where do you want to go: to Rodin or to Lenz? To Calais or to Monte Cassino near Rome? Take a look at the work and we’ll talk again?” The question asked by Toorop is the question interrogated in this text.

Affiliations: 1: University of the Arts


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